Ownership Reporting Evolves Again

Posted on January 29th, 2016 by

Since back in 2008 when the FCC adopted goals to increase diversity in broadcasting, they’ve been trying to conceive of concrete actions that can be taken to promote diversity in broadcasting. To establish a basis for doing so, the FCC has sought data to determine current broadcast station ownership by minorities and women. Ironically, the FCC’s own data collection efforts – in the form of revised ownership reporting – have perhaps become the largest obstacle to arriving at accurate minority and women broadcast station ownership.

The largest reason for the confusion is a lack of clear instruction on ownership reporting procedures, and layers of reporting required for parent and subsidiary reporting. A number of modifications to the ownership reporting form, and litigation over the FCC’s requirement that owners obtain registration numbers for accurate tracking, have failed to provide the clarity the FCC believes it needs. The solution? Issue a new order and make new changes.

In a lengthy, detailed January 2016 order that has clearly been in the works for several months, the FCC tweaked the ownership reporting form again, mandated that all reportable owners obtain at least Restricted Use FCC Registration Numbers (which only require the last 4 social security number digits). Then, they blew the dust off of their long forgotten proposal to have all noncommercial stations file on the same schedule as commercial stations (i.e., once every two years by the same date), and adopted that requirement. Those non-profit board members and officers will also need RUFRNs (sigh), and will have to disclose race/ethnicity. Next, the FCC tweaked the two-year deadline from November 1 to December 1 of the filing year.

And on top of it all, the ownership reporting forms are going to be migrated into the new License Management System (LMS), which will add yet another curveball to report preparation. For those that aren’t aware, the LMS software designers are skilled at making forms “smart” to dictate rule provisions, and sometimes even things that aren’t rules. So surprises may await.

While the FCC has decreed that these changes will apply to ownership reports filed in 2017, the rule changes won’t take effect for a few months until they are published in the Federal Register. In the meantime, NCE stations with upcoming biennial reports due on their renewal application anniversary dates still have the joy of preparing and filing the Form 323-E.

We’re still combing through the lengthy order and will notify clients on all detail in coming weeks. If you have a question, please let us know.