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UCC Media Justice Update

Posts in category: "media concentration"

Behind the Scenes in Fighting for Media Justice in Court

On June 11, 2019, the UCC's media justice ministry's policy advisor, Cheryl Leanza, argued in federal court against the Federal Communications Commission's new rules that permit significantly more consolidation in radio and television. Ms. Leanza, who is also counsel at the law firm Best, Best & Krieger, argued on behalf of UCC OC Inc. and the other public interest petitioners against the FCC in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit which sits in Philadelphia.  

The public interest organizations' core argument is that the FCC failed to consider whether its decision would harm ownership in broadcasting by women and people of color. The court appeared receptive.

In particular, the court was concerned that the FCC had de-linked the impact of consolidation from race and gender ownership diversity based on a flimsy historical analysis that, among other flaws, used racial minority ownership data but did not include data about women. The judges repeatedly pointed out that the FCC had no data on women.  One judge remarked, "Ten times zero is still zero," and "If we approve this, the headlines will read '3rd Circuit flunks statistics 101.'"

Another important point under debate was the effectiveness of two similarly named but slightly different definitions, called "eligible entities," which the FCC supposedly uses to increase ownership diversity. But the FCC conceded the first version of the definition won't help promote diversity--even after the same court had sent back the definition in the last two rounds of litigation. The second version of the term is part of a program to promote diverse radio ownership, but that program left no policy to promote diversity television ownership. And the data the FCC used to create that definition showed that at least 80 percent of the beneficiaries will not be women or people of color.

 
In addition to the main case about deregulation and race/gender ownership diversity, two other petitioners argued. The Minority and Media Telecommunications Council (MMTC) argued about flaws in the radio incubator program, and a group of television owners (Independent Television Group) asked the court to end the restriction on top-4 TV combinations. 
Listen to a recording of the oral argument. Cheryl’s argument starts around 18:40, and her rebuttal is around 1:14:20.
For more background on this case, read our previous blog posts:

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Celebrating Christmas with a Suit for Media Justice

Today the United Church of Christ's media justice ministry put the week just before Christmas to good use by continuing its long-standing campaign for equity in communications. UCC OC Inc. joined with allies in federal court contesting the Federal Communications Commission's failure to consider the negative impact the FCC's decisions have had on the total number of TV and radio stations owned by people of color and women. In 2017 the Trump FCC changed several rules that will permit significantly more consolidation, particularly in local television markets. Consolidation means fewer voices in local communities and fewer chances to hear from people underrepresented in television.

 

The case, titled Prometheus Radio Project v. FCC, is the fourth law suit since 2002 demonstrating that the FCC has not fulfilled its obligation under law to ensure ownership diversity in broadcasting. The FCC lost all three prior rounds.

 

"The FCC–again–completely failed to lift a finger for people of color and women hoping to own broadcast stations," said Cheryl A. Leanza, OC Inc.'s policy advisor and also lead counsel on the brief. "The federal court in Philadelphia has told the FCC three times that it must take a hard look at how consolidation might harm ownership by women and people of color. The FCC continues to whistle in the dark but take no action."

 

UCC OC Inc. is pleased to work alongside its valuable allies, Common Cause, Communication Workers of America, Free Press, Media Mobilizing Project and Prometheus Radio Project in this important campaign for racial and gender justice in communications.

 

Additional filings will be submitted to the court in February and March. Oral argument is anticipated in Philadelphia in the spring. Best Best & Krieger LLP offered pro bono support on the brief.

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Pressure to Stop Tribune-Sinclair Merger Bears Fruit

Today Federal Communications Commission Chairman Pai announced that he is proposing to designate for hearing several issues surrounding the Sinclair-Tribune proposed merger. Mr. Pai stated he was doing so because "certain station divestitures that have been proposed to the FCC would allow Sinclair to control those stations in practice, even if not in name, in violation of the law." Commissioner Rosenworcel rapidly signaled her support.

 

Cheryl A. Leanza, UCC OC Inc.'s policy advisor stated, "The Commission's proposed action is appropriate, as UCC's media justice ministry has pointed out from the beginning, because this transaction deserves serious scrutiny. This is good news for anyone who values competition and multiple viewpoints in news and on television."

 

Typically, designating a proposed merger for hearing means the transaction is withdrawn, and UCC OC Inc. hopes the same action follows today's announcement. Leanza noted, "All of the merger's opponents deserve recognition for their steadfast opposition to a merger that was previously believed to be inevitable."

 

Leanza continued, "While we celebrate the likely end to the Sinclair-Tribune transaction, the FCC has taken steps in the last year to invite this kind of abuse of its rules by repealing previous policies that prohibit stations from, as the Chairman said, 'control[ling] stations in practice, even if not in name, in violation of the law.'" In particular, under Chairman Pai, the FCC adopted two decisions that treat stations as independent from each other even if they jointly sell advertising time or jointly produce news (to name two examples). The FCC should quickly stop allowing companies to end-run around its rules as Sinclair proposed to do. And Congress should follow suit, by ending its requirement that the FC grandfather existing combinations of this type until 2025.

 

UCC OC Inc. filings against Sinclair:

Petition to Deny (August 8, 2017)

Petition to Deny (filed June 20, 2018)

Letter supporting delay in Sinclair transaction (filed July 9, 2018)

Reply to Sinclair Tribune (filed July 12, 2018)


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Categories: media concentration

Worried about Monolithic Local Media? Support the United Church of Christ's media justice ministry

Worried about Monolithic Local Media? The UCC's media justice ministry is with you -- support us!
Right now we're: in court in 2 places to stop FCC rules enabling Sinclair's consolidation, working with civil rights allies at the FCC to increase media diversity, and writing informative blog posts to keep you up to speed. Read all about it and help keep us going!
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By now you've surely heard about or seen the chilling video of local TV anchors at Sinclair Broadcasting stations around the country mouthing identical words that echo President Trump's attacks on the media. This video, while shocking, is only the tip of the iceberg. You may have just heard about Sinclair's most recent efforts, but at the UCC's media justice ministry, we've been tracking--and fighting against--policies which undermine media diversity and local journalism for years. Sinclair is well known for its ultra conservative news coverage, softball questions for the Trump administration, requiring all of its local affiliates to run opinion pieces from former Trump White House official Boris Epshteyn, and racist assumptions about American Muslims and terrorism (highlighted by HBO’s John Oliver).  And much of Sinclair Broadcasting's efforts would not be permitted if the Federal Communications Commission sustained, and enforced, its media ownership rules. Right now the FCC is reviewing Sinclair's proposed acquisition of Tribune Broadcasting, thus increasing this company's reach to 72 percent of the nation's audience -- far bigger than any other local TV broadcaster.

The United Church of Christ's media justice ministry has been working on media diversity, speaking truth to power, since 1959, when inspired by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Rev. Everett C. Parker led the way in holding local television broadcasters to account for failing to serve their African-American viewers. This ministry, called OC Inc., has been working to support media diversity and locally accountable broadcast journalism for decades.

Right now UCC OC Inc. is:

 

Please sign up for our newsletters so we can keep you informed, and make a donation support our work! With donations like yours, we'll be continuing this ministry to make sure media serves all people.

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Categories: media concentration

FCC's Shameful Assault on Access to Information, Implications Widespread

The following can be attributed to Cheryl A. Leanza, policy advisor to the United Church of Christ’s media justice ministry, OC Inc., in response to several votes today at the Federal Communications Commission:

In today’s string of votes, we see Federal Communications Commission Chairman Pai agenda unleashed on the United States.  He coyly waited until after his Senate confirmation vote and the most recent Congressional oversight hearing to unleash an unprecedented attack on civil rights and access to information.  The most vulnerable are feeling the most harmful impact.  Tribes, the most in need of affordable accessible communications, will see their subsidies immediately cut and their lands redefined without intergovernmental consultation.  Low income people must anticipate damaging changes as the Commission plans to cut off almost 70 percent of its subscribers and then proposes to add insult to injury with more draconian cuts in the form of a budget cap, lifetime limits on benefits, and more.

Today’s media ownership vote will take effect immediately:  it is not a proposal.  The ruling cuts back and eliminates rules that have been in place since the beginning of broadcast regulation.  We are losing rules that were designed to protect economic competition as well as competition in the marketplace of ideas.  No one looking at today’s media environment could imagine that the FCC, today, would see a media environment in need of fewer fact-checked news stories, fewer journalists, and reduced numbers of independent locally accountable news outlets--but that is what we will get.

This vote puts the final nail in the coffin for ownership diversity at the FCC.  This year’s Trump FCC fully exploits the failings in last year’s vote, which ignored the record in an effort to hide the connection between ownership and content.  The incubator proposal is meaningless, particularly in a consolidated media environment like the one we are about to experience.

With these actions, the Trump administration lays groundwork for less access to information and less voter education and engagement, which increases the likelihood that elections can be skewed by unverified news stories intent on confusion and manipulation. The forthcoming vote on net neutrality will further diminish freedom of speech and the marketplace of ideas online.

One rule now stands between the Trump FCC and approval of the Sinclair merger.  Sinclair is poised to fully exploit the rule rollbacks adopted today and waits expectantly for Chairman Pai’s promised revisions to the national TV ownership cap.  Congress set the national TV ownership cap by statute in 2004, but Chairman Pai has promised to change it, evading the statutorily-set limits on FCC power.  After that illegal change, the Sinclair merger will set the state for a new breathtaking wave of consolidation as other media companies rush to catch up.  Congress must ensure the FCC does not evade the limits of its statutory authority.

Rev. Dr. Everett C. Parker, founder of the United Church of Christ's media justice ministry, OC Inc., dedicated his life to accountable and local broadcasting.  I am ashamed that so much of his amazing life's work is being tossed in the trashbin today.

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