FCC withholds some ownership documents

by John Eggerton, Broadcasting & Cable

The FCC's Media Bureau has released a number of documents and audio transcripts related to its media ownership proceeding, but has withheld some 1,400 pages of documents, including two draft reports, citing various privilege exemptions.

That came in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from public interest law firm, the Institute for Public Representation (IPR), which professed itself "troubled" by the amount of information withheld-- including those two drafts--pointing out the FCC has made other drafts available.

The commission has already released a number of documents on its Web site, with FCC Chairman Kevin Martin saying it was in response to the public's interest in the material. That interest was peaked last fall when Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) got hold of drafts of media ownership studies the FCC had not released, prompting her to ask what else the FCC wasn't sharing.

Martin agreed to investigate, but also pointed out that not all of the FCC's work product sees the light of day, and besides the report was produced on the watch of his predecessor, Michael Powell.

In its responding to the FOIA request for all data related to its localism proceeding and review of media ownership rules, the FCC provided a half dozen or so new documents, pointed to a host of documents it had already made available on its Web site, as well as CD's with a couple thousand of hours of Edison radio recordings, in this case Edison Media Research recordings made under contract to the FCC for an analysis of whether radio stations were serving their local communities.

The FCC also explained why it was not releasing another 1,400 pages.

Those reasons included the "deliberative process" exemption for material that is "predecisional and deliberative," reflecting the give and take of the decision making process, as well as the exemption for "trade secret" copyrighted material provided under limitations on redistribution.

Angela Campbell, director of IPR, said she was troubled that "policy is being made pursuant to data the public does not have access to," including the two staff drafts.

The FCC describes the two drafts it is withholding as 6- and 37-page reports "which provide an overview of the record developed to date in the localism proceeding." It calls them internal, deliberative products which are both predecisional and reflect the agency consultative process," and thus fall under the "deliberative process" privilege exemption.

article originally published at http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/CA6404744.html.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey