(In story from July 28 corrects second paragraph to properly
identify the watchdog as the Government Accountability Office)
By Alina Selyukh
WASHINGTON, July 28 The Federal Communications
Commission may have problems ensuring that its regulations on
shared arrangements by TV stations meet the agency's goals on
competition and diversity because "it lacks basic data," the
U.S. government watchdog said on Monday.
The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm
of Congress, at the request of Senate Commerce Committee
Chairman Jay Rockefeller, spent a year investigating the impact
of agreements between TV stations to jointly sell advertising or
produce and acquire programming, or to share news or other
equipment and resources.
Through interviews with stakeholders, a review of filings
and documents, and a case study in six markets, the GAO found it
"difficult to objectively determine" how such agreements affect
the FCC's policy goals of competition, localism and diversity in
the broadcasting industry.
"FCC has not completed a study of and lacks basic data on
broadcaster agreements. This lack of analysis and information
could undermine FCC's efforts to ensure its media ownership
regulations achieve their intended goals," the GAO said in a
report released on Monday.
"Without conducting a fact-based analysis of how agreements
are being used, FCC cannot ensure its current and future
policies on broadcaster agreements serve the public interest."
Consumer advocates and the U.S. Justice Department had urged
the FCC to carefully scrutinize agreements through which
broadcast companies may be effectively controlling two or more
TV stations in a market.
The FCC in March voted along party lines, with a Democratic
majority, to crack down on joint advertising sales agreements.
The FCC now counts a broadcaster as having an ownership interest
in any station in which that party sells 15 percent or more of
weekly advertising time.
Current FCC rules typically prohibit one broadcaster from
owning two TV stations in a local market.
The two Republican commission members opposed the move, and
their concerns were echoed by the broadcasting industry - in
particular that the arrangements are vital to financially
strapped local stations as they save cash on ad sales and use it
to improve programming or even stay on air.
The National Association of Broadcasters, a trade group, is
suing the FCC over the restrictions.
The FCC has also launched a new review of its media
ownership rules, which has to be conducted every four years, and
is seeking comment on whether it should require TV stations to
disclose shared services agreements.
The GAO found that TV stations were "increasingly sharing
services," but found limited data on how prevalent those
agreements were. Neither the FCC nor industry representatives
could point to a central data source to track such agreements,
the GAO said.
The report also found that broadcasters were more likely to
strike so-called joint sales agreements or local marketing
agreements in smaller markets. No data was available for local
news service agreements or shared services agreements broadly.
The FCC declined a request for comment on Monday.
For the entire report, see: here
(Reporting by Alina Selyukh; editing by Ros Krasny and Leslie