FCC eases rules on foreign ownership of TV and radio stations

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler (seen here in his previous role as president of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Assn.).
(Linda Spillers / Los Angeles Times)

The Federal Communications Commission wants to encourage more foreign ownership of television and radio stations.

Currently, there is a 25% cap on a foreign company or individual when it comes to owning a stake in a broadcast property. While the cap is not being loosened per se, the FCC said on Thursday that if an investment exceeded 25%, it could still be approved.

“The ruling potentially removes obstacles to new capital investment, which will support small business, minority, and female broadcast ownership, and spur innovation,” the FCC said in announcing that it was clarifying its foreign ownership policy.


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The agency said the tweak “does not alter the FCC’s obligation to protect the public interest, including national security, localism and media diversity, in case-by-case reviews of each transition.”

The move is one of the first signed off on by new FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who was sworn in last week.

“The infusion of additional foreign capital has the potential to enhance the ability of broadcasters to use their spectrum to serve the needs and interests of their communities,” Wheeler said.

However, he stressed that the agency is not going to “rubber stamp” every proposal that comes in.

The National Assn. of Broadcasters, a lobbying arm for the television industry, said it applauded the FCC’s action.

“Today’s vote provides broadcasters greater access to capital that will allow local stations to continue our indispensable role as the primary purveyor of news, entertainment and lifeline information to the American people,” the NAB said.

Among the media companies urging for an easing of the foreign ownership cap were CBS Corp., Hearst Television Inc., Walt Disney Co. and Univision Communications Inc. They were part of a recently formed organization called the Coalition of Broadcast Investment.

An FCC spokeswoman was unable to provide any details on the current levels of foreign ownership of broadcast properties.


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