When you turn on the nightly news, you expect to find competing viewpoints and different perspectives from one station to the next. But in communities across the country, stations that were once fierce competitors have cut staff and merged their newsrooms, in many cases airing the same content on multiple stations in the same market. You can try to change the channel, but all you'll see is the exact same newscast.
This kind of covert consolidation isn’t supposed to happen. But media companies have exploited loopholes in the Federal Communications Commission’s ownership rules. Many broadcasters claim that as long as a company’s name isn’t on a broadcast license, it can control everything from news programming to office operations without being considered an “owner.” But these deals, called “Shared Service Agreements,” look and act just like any other media merger.
Free Press’ advocacy and research led to a big win on March 31, 2014, when the FCC closed a legal loophole TV broadcasters had exploited to operate and profit from purportedly independent stations via Joint Sales Agreements (JSAs).
While the March 31 vote focused only on JSAs, it signals that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is willing to break with the past and stop broadcasters from using shell companies to skirt the agency's ownership limits. Free Press will continue advocating for measures that would put more of the public airwaves into the hands of local owners.