WASHINGTON— On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission Chairman moved forward Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan to revise the national television-ownership cap, delivering yet another gift to big broadcasters by kicking off an attempt to raise the cap and allow companies to own television stations reaching more than 39 percent of the national audience.
Congress set the current cap and the FCC does not have the authority to change it. In fact, even Republican Commissioner Michael O’Reilly, who voted for the proposal, previously acknowledged that the FCC lacks this authority.
Nonetheless, the FCC majority is pressing forward and continuing its pattern of rolling back critical media-ownership safeguards. These actions harm localism, diversity and competition and benefit media behemoths like the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which wants to expand its media empire but can’t do so without exceeding a number of media-ownership limits set by Congress and the FCC.
These deregulatory changes stand to usher in a new wave of massive media consolidation, beginning with Sinclair’s proposed $3.9-billion merger with Tribune Media. If approved, the combined entity would reach more than 70 percent of U.S. households, far in excess of the existing national ownership cap.
Free Press Policy Analyst Dana Floberg made the following statement:
“Ajit Pai is the broadcast industry’s deregulatory Santa Claus, and he’s bending over backwards to give Sinclair everything on its holiday wish list.
“After slashing critical local broadcasting protections, Pai has set his sights on the last remaining firewall against unprecedented waves of media mergers. His plan to gut national ownership restrictions despite having no legal authority to do so shows that he stands squarely on the side of big broadcasters, not the public interest.
“Runaway consolidation gouges newsrooms and communities, especially marginalized communities that depend on broadcast TV for responsive local news. Congress must step in to avert this impending disaster and protect the public from Pai’s pro-consolidation plans.”