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NABOB urges FCC to push ownership through Joint Sales, Services Agreements

(March 3, 2014) The National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters has asked the Federal Communications Commission to consider reversing the dismal status of black TV ownership by modifying the existing terms of Joint Sales Agreements and Shared Services Agreements. These agreements presently allow a station owner to turn over the operation of a TV station and its license to a company that assumes financial and operational responsibility while it makes incremental payments over time to fully acquire the station. The FCC must approve the transfer of the license under the JSA and SSA agreements.

Less than ten years ago there were 21 full power commercial television stations licensed to African American controlled companies in the United States, and today there are only three. Only one, WJYS-TV62 in Chicago, is a full power commercial television completely operated by an African American owned licensee. Two were just recently acquired by commentator Armstrong Williams from Sinclair Broadcasting and are being operated pursuant to JSAs and SSAs.

The JSA permits one TV station to handle advertising sales for another station and charge a commission for the services. The practice has allowed owners of multiple stations to reap the benefit of ad revenues while avoiding FCC regulations that ban the ownership of two full-power TV stations in the same local market.

Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FCC, has stated publicly that he would soon call for the elimination of JSA and SSA agreements, and NABOB has, in the past, has called the practice "mere gimmicks for group licensees to avoid the intent of the local ownership rules."  But in light of the declining black TV ownership, the organization's executive director and chief counsel, Jim Winston (pictured), has asked the FCC  to consider a caveat to its plan.

In a statement to the FCC, Winston wrote "The Commission has indicated that it might treat all JSAs and SSAs as attributable and require that existing JSAs and SSAs be dissolved over some fairly short time period. However, if the use of JSAs and SSAs is the most likely opportunity for short term growth in the minority ownership of full power television stations, the Commission should consider waivers of the attribution policy."

NABOB suggests the Commission could place conditions on JSAs and SSAs that enable the [minority] licensee of the station to eventually operate the station without the need for a JSA or SSA. A review would take place annually on a case-by-case basis to see if they have the potential to promote diversity of ownership.

In this arrangement, said NABOB, the JSA or SSA operator would be required to turn over full control to the licensee in a set period, perhaps five years. The annual reporting to the Commission should demonstrate that the licensee was making progress toward taking control.

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