In one of her first acts as Chairwoman of the House Communications Subcommittee, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced legislation Tuesday that would force the FCC to revoke rules that require board members of noncommercial broadcast stations to submit their ownership information to the agency.
Blackburn introduced the measure (which, at this writing, bears no name or bill number) on the heels of the FCC’s decision earlier this month to deny reconsideration of noncommercial broadcast ownership disclosure rules that form part of a larger FCC rulemaking adopted in January 2016 in an effort to improve ownership data collected from broadcasters. While many rules adopted in that order were endorsed by all five FCC commissioners at that time, both FCC Republicans—Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly—took issue with rules requiring noncommercial broadcast ownership disclosure. Although the FCC’s majority reasoned that the new disclosure requirement would assist the agency in its analysis of minority ownership and media diversity, Pai declared in a dissenting statement that he could not support “the imposition of a requirement that the officers and directors of noncommercial educational broadcasters provide us with personal information, including the last four digits of an SSN, to obtain unique identifiers.” Reminding his colleagues that the FCC’s multiple ownership rules “do not apply to NCE stations,” Pai said, “I fail to see how this will lead to any tangible benefit.” Similarly, O’Rielly voiced reservations “about the value of imposing the reporting requirements for commercial entities onto NCE broadcast stations.”
As she affirmed how “public broadcasters from across the country have expressed their reasonable privacy concerns,” Blackburn explained that the bill intends to “remove a useless barrier that would prevent qualified and dedicated people from serving as board members to these vital local broadcast stations.” Voicing appreciation for the bill’s introduction, a spokesman for America’s Public Television Stations emphasized the strong support of his organization for “ensuring that diverse viewpoints and perspectives are available to the American people over the broadcast airwaves.” Because the decision to deny reconsideration was undertaken not by the FCC’s commissioners but by the FCC’s Media Bureau on delegated authority, Pai encouraged noncommercial broadcasters to submit petitions for review after Republicans assume control of the FCC tomorrow, noting: “this is one of many . . . problems that I hope we can solve quickly this year, either through legislation or our own review.”