The FCC voted today to overhaul media ownership rules—in part to make it easier for broadcasters to own newspapers in their markets, and to own multiple TV stations—and the reactions ran the gamut from glowing praise to stinging indictment.
In outlining the rule changes approved today, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai acknowledged the divide in opinions on the decision.
“Our decision is based on the law, the facts in the record, and sound economics. Some say we’ve gone too far. Others say we haven’t gone far enough. I think we’ve gotten it just right,” said Pai in a statement.
The National Association of Broadcasters was quick to thank the commission.
“These rules are not only irrational in today’s media environment, but they have also weakened the newspaper industry, cost journalism jobs and forced local broadcast stations onto unequal footing with our national pay-TV and radio competitors. We are grateful the commission has adopted a common-sense approach to media regulations that will foster innovation, reinvestment in investigative reporting and better service to our tens of millions of listeners and viewers,” said NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith in a statement.
The Coalition to Save Local Media—a group including the American Cable Association, Common Cause and Dish Network, all opposed to Sinclair’s proposed $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media—called the vote further evidence of the FCC’s biased support for Sinclair.
“Today the FCC acted to weaken media consolidation rules that pave an easier path for the proposed Sinclair-Tribune megamerger. … This proposed merger will stifle local and independent media voices and hurt consumers,” the group said in a statement, renewing its call for the FCC and Department of Justice to block the merger.
FreedomWorks Foundation, a Libertarian advocacy group, applauded the FCC for changing the rules.
“There is absolutely no serious argument for rules limiting who can own newspapers or broadcast stations, especially in this age of the Internet. It’s laughable that some could seriously suggest we ban common ownership of newspapers and broadcasters at a time when newspapers have podcasts and Youtube channels, and broadcasters have websites with written content,” said FreedomWorks Foundation President Adam Brandon in a statement.
The American Television Alliance (ATVA) questioned whether the FCC did enough to protect consumers amid the possibility of further media consolidation.
“Today the FCC approved a new broadcast standard and loosened restrictions on media ownership. While the orders include some measures to protect consumers, we are disappointed that the commission did not do more in these proceedings to protect viewers from higher costs and more broadcaster blackouts. We will continue to work with the FCC to ensure that, despite these changes, broadcasters negotiate the carriage of their signals in good faith,” said Trent Duffy, ATVA spokesman, in a statement.
Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., issued a statement slamming the FCC’s Lifeline decision as well as the media ownership rules.
“Once again the FCC has backed special favors for giant corporations while stripping away important assistance for low-income Americans. First, the FCC voted to give major handouts to Sinclair, putting corporate bottom lines above the public interest. …Unfortunately, today’s action demonstrates the FCC’s relentless desire to please the corporate interests, and is troubling considering that we have a critical net neutrality vote coming up next month,” Pallone said.
Among the changes made with today’s vote was the elimination of the Newspaper/Broadcast Cross-Ownership Rule, Radio/Television Cross-Ownership Rule, and Television Joint Sales Agreement Attribution Rule. Also, the FCC voted to get rid of the eight-voices rule, which bars an entity from owning two stations in one market unless eight independent broadcasters would remain.
The order does not address the national ownership cap and the associated UHF discount, both of which the FCC said will be considered in a separate proceeding later this year.
The FCC also voted to establish an incubator program to promote ownership diversity in the broadcast industry.