Big Trouble in Little Rock

When I look at Little Rock, Ark., I see media consolidation. But that’s not what the Federal Communications Commission sees, and that’s a problem.

Earlier this month, Mission Broadcasting bought two Little Rock TV stations from Newport Television, and almost immediately handed over control of those stations to Nexstar Broadcasting.

The problem is, Nexstar already owns two other stations in Little Rock. In essence, you have one company controlling the operations and news programming for four TV stations in the same city.

That should violate the FCC’s media ownership rules, which dictate that a single company can own only two TV stations in a single market, but it doesn’t. Mission and Nexstar are ostensibly two separate companies, at least on paper, but in practice it’s a much different story. Mission is little more than a shell company set up so that Nexstar can circumvent the FCC’s ownership regulations.

 “While Nexstar doesn’t officially own Mission, it does hold a controlling interest in the company, according to generally accepted accounting principles,” writes Arkansas Business reporter Kate Knable. “Publicly traded Nexstar acknowledges this in its annual reports, noting that it has ‘power over significant activities affecting Mission’s economic performance, including budgeting for advertising revenue, advertising and hiring and firing of sales force personnel.’”

The impact is already being felt in Little Rock, where almost 30 people have lost jobs thanks to this shady practice. While Mission and Nexstar may appear to be separate companies, the impact of their business arrangement mirrors that of actual ownership consolidation. The end result is fewer jobs, fewer viewpoints and fewer choices.

Free Press has tracked more than 100 cases of these deals in communities large and small around the U.S. The FCC even acknowledged the dangers this kind of covert consolidation poses in its own Information Needs of Communities report. Why the agency hasn’t taken action to curb this abuse is unclear.

The FCC needs to understand that if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. And while this deal may not have wings, it sure smells foul.

Original photo by Flickr user D.H. Wright

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