October 22, 1998
|Re:||Regarding Streamlining of Mass Media Applications, Rules and Processes; Policies and Rules Regarding Minority and Female Ownership of Mass Media Facilities.|
We have decided that our Mass Media Bureau should no longer conduct time-consuming reviews of substantial exhibits, appendices and attachments for each application. Instead, we will rely on applicants to respond to a relatively brief series of core questions and certifications. We support the decision to make this fundamental change because we believe in the overall honesty and integrity of our licensees and applicants. We would prefer, however, that the worksheets used in completing these abbreviated forms be made publicly available.
We fear that we have made this enormous switch in regulatory regime without providing the public with the tools to augment our own limited enforcement resources. We have provided applicants with worksheets to assist them in responding to critically important questions and certifications. Among other things, these worksheets will help applicants determine whether ownership interests are attributable, whether a transaction is within the multiple ownership limits, and whether a transfer of control has occurred, as well as to evaluate certain aspects of sales contracts. Yet we do not require that these worksheets be made available for public inspection, either in the station's public files or at the Commission.
This is contrary to the informed judgment of the Federal Communications Bar Association which said it "emphatically believes that applicants and licensees should ... be required to retain such worksheets and place them in their public inspection files..." (FCBA comments at 11.) The Commission's review and approval of applications for new facilities, modifications, assignments and transfers are all premised on public participation, especially where the Commission is no longer providing close scrutiny. It is important that the public have access to the information used by applicants in support of their answers. Even the most carefully prepared application may contain errors, especially in the early stages of this new process. Those who would be interested in examining pending applications may have legitimate questions about how a particular "yes" or "no" answer may have been determined.
We fear that our decision to require that applicants only make available such supporting information if and when they become subject to an audit is insufficient to ensure the integrity of our process. Streamlining should not impair the rights of the public to know that our rules are being fairly and consistently applied. We hope that in our desire to reduce paperwork that we have not inadvertently thrown the baby out with the bathwater. We express our willingness to reconsider this issue if others share our concerns or as experience warrants.