The Federal Communications Commission yesterday said it is launching a public inquiry into what its role should be in regulating hostile media takeover attempts, but said it would process pending applications for control of broadcast licenses in the meantime.
The agency, which promised last spring to begin drafting rules on how to regulate proxy fights or hostile takeovers, said it would uphold the statutory obligations of the Communications Act of 1934. But it added that the act needs to be "brought up to date" to facilitate a regulatory process strained by a recent flurry of media acquisition activity.
"We are all committed to administering the communications act," FCC Chairman Mark S. Fowler said. But the agency also must "make the act, through creative but sound thinking, up to date," he said. The agency has spurred investments in media assets because of its deregulatory policies but remains a "checkpoint" to hostile takeovers, he said.
"Some view the FCC as a trapdoor or swinging door," Fowler said. "This notice of inquiry will show the door is neither locked, nor swinging, nor unattended." Fowler also is expected to address the question of the FCC's role in hostile takeovers and proxy fights today in hearings before the subcommittee on telecommunications, consumer protection and finance.
The agency said it plans to follow four guidelines in drafting a policy: making sure the agency complies with the statutory mandate of the communications act, making sure any rules do not favor one party over another, accommodating other state and federal laws, and expediting the application process, said Roy Stewart, head of the video services branch of the agency.
One problem the agency faces in dealing with hostile takeover attempts is "squaring Securities and Exchange Commission requirements with requirements under the act," Stewart said.
Currently, a company discloses its takeover intentions to the SEC but must wait for at least 45 days for public comments before getting a "long" change-of-control application approved by the FCC.