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Covert Consolidation

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.


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Blog Posts

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Press Releases

  • FCC Approves Sinclair-Allbritton Deal Minus Shell Games

    July 24, 2014
    Washington — On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission approved Sinclair Broadcast Group's $985 million acquisition of several Allbritton TV stations, along with NewsChannel 8 in Washington. The final deal is far different from the one Sinclair initially proposed in July 2013. And today’s FCC approval came only after Sinclair was forced to alter the deal in response to opposition by Free Press.
  • Sinclair Abandons Shell Company in Television Ownership Ruse

    May 30, 2014

    WASHINGTON -- On Thursday, Sinclair Broadcast Group told the Federal Communications Commission it would abandon its plans to illegally control multiple stations in the Charleston, S.C., and Birmingham, Ala., markets. The abandoned transactions were part of a $985 million deal with Allbritton Communications involving Sinclair's acquisition of nine television stations and NewsChannel 8. 

  • FCC Moves to Curb Runaway TV Consolidation

    March 31, 2014

    WASHINGTON -- On Monday, the Federal Communications Commission moved for the first time in three decades to roll back media consolidation.

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News from Around the Web

  • FCC Puts Kibosh on New JSA Deals

    March 31, 2014

    The new rule bans new joint sales agreements in which one station sells 15 percent or more of the advertising time of another separately owned station in the same market. In addition, most existing JSAs will expire within two years unless the commission grants an exemption.

  • FCC Chairman Proposes Limits on Local TV Alliances for Retransmission Deals

    Deadline New York
    March 7, 2014

    Public interest groups like Chairman Tom Wheeler’s retransmission consent and TV station shared services agreement proposals better than I envisioned. Public Knowledge says the plans “will represent a meaningful attempt to rein in programming costs.” Free Press CEO Craig Aaron lauded the chairman’s “willingness to steer clear of the mistakes of FCC predecessors who turned a blind eye” to TV alliances and ownership limits.

  • What's Behind Wheeler's JSA Crackdown?

    February 12, 2014

    FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s campaign to crack down on joint sales agreements and other sharing arrangements is being driven by liberal watchdog groups, the pay TV industry — and, perhaps, the chairman’s desire to encourage broadcasters to cash in their channels during the agency’s incentive auction next year, broadcast sources say.

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People + Policy

= Positive Change for the Public Good

people + policy = Positive Change for the Public Good