WASHINGTON -- On Monday, the Federal Communications Commission moved for the first time in three decades to roll back media consolidation.
In a 3–2 vote, the FCC closed a legal loophole TV broadcasters had exploited to operate and profit from purportedly independent stations via Joint Sales Agreements (JSAs). To evade long-standing limits on how many stations one owner can control in a single market, companies like the Sinclair Broadcast Group, Nexstar and Raycom have used JSAs and other outsourcing agreements to take financial and operational control away from the supposed licensees without transferring the licenses themselves.
Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron made the following statement:
"For years, a small handful of powerful conglomerates has used outsourcing agreements to dodge the FCC's ownership rules and grow their empires at the public's expense. And for too long the agency has looked the other way as these companies have dominated the airwaves.
"While today's vote focuses only on Joint Sales Agreements, 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.
"It's time for conglomerates to start playing by the rules. Divesting some of their stations could open the door for truly independent and diverse owners to enter a marketplace conglomerates have controlled for years.
"We do have concerns about how the FCC will apply waiver standards. The agency must ensure that its efforts promote diverse ownership and do not prevent diverse owners from exercising real control over the stations licensed in their names.
"Bending the rules to keep sidecars in place would relegate these licenses to permanent second-class status. We need to ensure that this vote leads to real diversity on the public airwaves."