Office of Communications, Inc.

UCC Media Justice Update

Posts in category: "media concentration"

Public Interest Groups on Court Ruling Clearing Way for FCC to Erode Rules Allowing Further Media Consolidation

For Immediate Release: June 15, 2017

Contact: Courtney Holsworth, courtney@balestramedia.com, 989.572.8162

 

Public Interest Groups on Court Ruling Clearing Way for FCC to Erode Rules Allowing Further Media Consolidation

 

Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit denied the emergency stay motion filed by public interest groups, including the National Hispanic Media Coalition, Free Press, Common Cause, Media Alliance, and United Church of Christ, OC, Inc., which sought to prevent the Federal Communications Commission from implementing its decision to reinstate the so-called UHF discount. This will allow the FCC to make it easier for the nation’s largest television ownership groups to acquire additional stations, and crowd out diverse and local voices.  The groups are represented by the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University Law Center. Despite this interim ruling, the Court will hear the appeal later this year.

 

The FCC’s April, 2017 decision issued overturned a ruling issued in September, 2016 by an new Commission majority created after two Obama Administration appointees left the Commission. It allows large TV groups to evade a cap on how many stations they own by counting only half of the audience of UHF frequency TV stations towards a Congressionally-established limit of 39% of the nation’s TV homes. This undermines the goals of the Communications Act to promote localism, competition and diversity.

 

In the wake of the FCC’s decision to reinstate the discount, on May 8th Sinclair Broadcast Group announced plans to purchase Tribune Media TV stations for $3.9 billion. The deal would create a broadcast colossus with more than 200 TV stations, and would result in Sinclair reaching more than 70 percent of the national audience with stations in large cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas. However, by reinstating the technically outdated UHF discount, this large deal would mean that Sinclair would be in compliance with the 39% ownership limit.

 

Read more about the case here: http://bit.ly/2qXEz96

 

“The Court of Appeals’ decision to allow the reinstatement of the UHF discount makes it easier for huge ownership groups to take over the media market, at the expense of Latinos, media owners of color and local voices that seek to serve their diverse communities,” said Carmen Scurato, director of policy and legal affairs at the National Hispanic Media Coalition. “The DC Court has cleared the way for massive consolidation, negatively impacting the thousands of owners and consumers that this appeal represented. The FCC has a mandate to act in the public interest yet by reinstating the UHF discount, Chairman Pai has signaled that he is on the side of big media conglomerates that want more control of what we see and hear on the airwaves.”

 

“We're disappointed by the court's decision to deny the stay, but still plan to show the unlawful nature of the FCC's arbitrary and capricious decision under review in this case,” said Gaurav Laroia, Policy Counsel at Free Press. “Chairman Pai's decision to revive this obsolete rule would allow broadcast consolidation far beyond the already high limits set by Congress. And that would grease the skids for companies like Sinclair to cash in, acquiring other media conglomerates like Tribune with the merger those two companies proposed last month. Runaway broadcast consolidation at the national and local level is bad for competition, diversity and localism in broadcasting. Sinclair's practices are a prime example of how consolidation undermines those three principles, with its penchant for dictating coverage to local affiliates and intervening in the editorial decisions of the stations it owns.

 

“Chairman Ajit Pai, President Trump’s appointee at the Federal Communications Commission, is a full partner in the Trump Administration's attack on the press,” said Cheryl Leanza, Policy Advisor at United Church of Christ, OC, Inc. “With his decision to put an obsolete rule back on the books, Chairman Pai will devastated the American public’s access to multiple points of view from hard news sources. We look forward to a positive result when the court reviews the substance of this irrational and dangerous decision.”

 

“The UHF discount has long outlived its usefulness,” said former FCC Commissioner and Common Cause Special Adviser Michael Copps. “Reinstating it was a huge, unwarranted gift to Big Broadcast. So it is disappointing that the court did not rein in the broadcast-friendly majority at the FCC. We remain committed to halting the wave of media consolidation the FCC majority has sought to unleash.”

 

“The petitioners in this case regret the abrupt reinstatement of the admittedly obsolete UHF discount rule to aid a single corporation. Rushing through yet more media consolidation in a hasty and ill-considered manner is no favor to the public's increasing frustration with the media,” stated Tracy Rosenberg, Executive Director at Media Alliance.

 

“This case is far from over,” said Professor Angela J. Campbell, Director of the Communications and Technology Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Public Representation. “Most stay motions are denied. The Court’s unwillingness to grant our motion doesn’t change the fact that we have strong legal arguments against Chairman Pai’s unseemly rush to allow the nation’s largest broadcasters to become even larger.”

 

The stay motion and the reply to the oppositions to the stay motion can be viewed here and here.

 

###

Read more

Categories: media concentration

Media ownership diversity ignored again

Today’s Federal Communications Commission order on media ownership is the regulatory equivalent or waving a white flag of surrender. The critical issues of race, power, white privilege and justice are at the center for our national conversation; the media’s coverage of the presidential election may well be determinative of the outcome; and the FCC is peering timidly out from the shadows, showing none of the bold leadership that it brought to bear elsewhere in the last two years.

The FCC made absolutely no progress on media diversity. It has ignored, for a third time, the mandate of the U.S. courts and the directives of the Communications Act. While the FCC did maintain the existing rules, meaning it has not given a green light to more media consolidation, Congress’ action to permit companies to circumvent those rules means we are likely to see—in practice—more joint operations than ever. 

The FCC failed to engage with industry, the civil rights community, or public interest advocates to find any meaningful action to fulfill its statutory obligation to promote media diversity. It is no surprise that we are seeing the same re-hash of the same issues as we have for the last twenty years.

In 1968, the Kerner Commission concluded, “the press has too long basked in a white world, looking out of it, if at all, with white men's eyes and a white perspective. That is no longer good enough. The painful process of readjustment that is required of the American news media must begin now. They must make a reality of integration--in both their product and personnel. They must insist on the highest standards of accuracy--not only reporting single events with care and skepticism, but placing each event into meaningful perspective. They must report the travail of our cities with compassion and depth.”

History’s lesson is as relevant today as it was then. Our only hope is that the next FCC Chair will take up these matters with seriousness and dispatch.

Read more

Categories: media concentration

Budget riders threaten media justice wins

Over the last year, we've had a couple of great FCC rulings.  We were pleased to see the FCC, last year, take a step toward rules that will promote more media diversity.  The FCC eliminated loopholes that allow companies to own more stations than permitted by FCC rules.  This resulted right away in more stations being sold off to women and people of color and increasing media ownership diversity for the first time in years

In addition, of course we're all excited about the FCC's strong net neutrality ruling this year, supported by our fantastic Faithful Internet campaign.

But unfortunately each of these rulings are at risk during the budget process, when members of Congress attach "policy riders" to the budget.  Essentially even if Congress can't blog the FCC through legislation, it can put limits on how the FCC spends its money and that means Congress can block the FCC's decisions through sneaky back-door maneuvers. 

In the last month we've been working with our allies in the civil rights and faith communities to urge Congress to let the FCC's decisions stand.  You can see the Leadership Conference substantive letter on media diversity, their letter opposing policy riders, and our faith letter opposing both media diversity and net neutrality policy riders. 

Read more

Progress on Diversity Today, Hope for More Diversity Tomorrow

Today the FCC took action which might be a modest harbinger of better news on this front in the future.  The FCC approved a number of transactions which will add new broadcast owners of color and women.  Setting aside the details of each transaction, it is important to note, as Chairman Wheeler and Commissioner Clyburn did today, that this welcome increase in African American, Asian American and women owners comes as a direct result of the FCC's decision to start enforcing the ownership rules already on the books.  Last spring the FCC recognized that so-called "sidecar" or Joint Sales Agreements (JSAs) between stations take advantage of a legal loopholes to achieve concentration in excess of ownership limits. 

 

This is a great example showing how the FCC's media ownership rules are an important way that the FCC can ensure we have a diverse media.  The stations transfers approved today took place because, once the loophole was closed, the existing owners were not permitted to keep stations in violation of the FCC's rules.  If the FCC's rules had been enforced as they should have been for the last 15 years, perhaps our media ownership numbers would not be as dismal as they are now.

 

The FCC can repeat this success in its currently pending 2014 Quadrennial Review of ownership rules, but only if it takes action now.  While the FCC closed the loophole of JSAs (which stations use to jointly sell advertising), many other similar ownership arrangements continue under the moniker of "SSAs" or Shared Services Agreements.  Not only are these agreements similar to JSAs in their ability to evade compliance with the FCC's ownership rules, but they strike at the heart of the FCC's core goals because they enable televisions stations to consolidate news operations.   In several important markets in our country--for example in Honolulu--viewers see the same newscast on three separate TV stations.  This not only limits multiple newscasts to one viewpoint, but eliminates jobs for reporters.  These agreements are also problematic because they create "financial dependency," as Wheeler and Clyburn put it, on the part of putative owners, depriving those dependent owners of capital and wealth.

 

SSAs are clothed in secrecy, because unlike JSAs, broadcasters are not required to disclose their terms to either the FCC or the public.  The FCC missed an important opportunity last spring when it could have required these agreements to come under scrutiny.  If the FCC wants to see more deals like the ones it approved today, it needs to require SSA disclosure in the first half of 2015--so there is enough time to analyze these agreements and adopt rules eliminating the remaining loopholes as part of the pending review.   

 

Evan as national events confirm once again, that, yes, race does matter in how we perceive so many important aspects of daily life and public policy, we see a glimmer of hope that the people with insight into the needs of communities who have so long been closed out of the mass media might have a chance to shape local news in some places in the years to come.

Read more

Move toward Competition, But Where is Diversity?

FCC Chairman Wheeler yesterday announced his intention to make an important step forward toward more media competition.  The really good news is that Chairman Wheeler is not proposing to permit additional consolidation, which is a significant improvement over the ill-conceived proposal of the prior Chairman, Julius Genachowski.

In addition, Wheeler is proposing to close some loopholes in the existing rules addressing jointly-run (but not jointly-owned) TV stations.  Many years ago, the Supreme Court said about jointly-run news outlets, “it is unrealistic to expect true diversity from a commonly owned … combination. The divergency of their viewpoints cannot be expected to be the same as if they were antagonistically run.” The same holds true today. When two TV stations merge, they join staff, news teams and sales teams. There are fewer journalists, and fewer places for members of the community to share stories or to get news. If one reporter isn't interested in a news story, no one is, because there is only one reporter! We see the same effects when those two TV stations are operating together using a complex financial agreement as when the joint ownership is out in the open.

 

And yet, it is still unclear what Chairman Wheeler is proposing to promote media diversity. Today, ownership diversity is devastatingly low. The inadequately collected and analyzed data released by the FCC in 2012 indicated that we have virtually no TV stations owned by people of color or women in the United States, and that number will surely be lower when the more recent data from last December is released.  TV still holds an unprecedented sway over our national conversation, political dialogue and values. Two hundred eighty-three million people (that's out of over 310 million total) in the U.S. watch an average of 146 hours of TV every month.  Without owners from all walks of life and reflecting the full diversity of our nation, our national and local dialogues suffer.

 

The last Obama FCC Chairman Genachowski kicked the can down the road and left office without addressing these issues. The new FCC Chair is pointed in the right direction, but he needs to get across the finish line.

Read more




Copyright ©2014 OC Inc. | Subscribe to UCC Headlines | Subscribe to our Blog in a Reader facebook icon twitter icon twitter icon

Sign Up for Email