WASHINGTON — On Wednesday, Free Press urged the Federal Communications Commission to abandon efforts to relax or eliminate any of the agency’s remaining media-ownership protections. Moving forward on these proposals would undermine the Commission’s central mandate to promote localism, diversity and competition in broadcast media, according to a reply comment Free Press submitted to the FCC as part of the agency’s quadrennial review of its ownership rules.
In the filing, Free Press calls out the agency for failing to perform a court-mandated analysis of the race and gender of broadcast owners, and for neglecting to examine how FCC policies have affected that ownership diversity. Having refused yet again to assess the impact of its proposed policy changes, the FCC can’t reasonably assert that further loosening its ownership limits would not harm diversity.
“Either explicit or covert relaxation of the Commission’s rules is likely to cause irreparable harm to Free Press members and the public generally, stripping local communities of the competition, localism, and diversity they depend on for critical news and information,” the Free Press comment reads.
The Trump FCC is considering changes to — or the elimination of — three primary rules: the local radio-ownership rule, the local television-ownership rule and the dual-network rule. Each is intended to help ensure a competitive media landscape, including a wide range of owners and multiple local perspectives.
In 2017, the FCC determined that women own just seven percent of FM radio stations and people of color own less than three percent. The numbers for television stations are barely better. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has told the FCC in three previous rounds of litigation that before proceeding with any rule changes the agency must first consider the impact those changes would have on diversity across the industry — something it has thus far failed to do.
Free Press Policy Manager Dana Floberg made the following statement:
“The Trump FCC continues to neglect its public-interest obligations, hoping to hand the nation’s largest broadcast conglomerates the rule changes they demand so they can exert even more control over local radio and television.
“By once again proposing to weaken its rules, the agency is revealing an appalling disregard for the benefits broadcast-industry diversity brings to the public, and especially to communities of color that disproportionately depend on TV and radio stations for critical local news and information.
“The Commission has ignored calls to analyze how weakening its ownership rules would impact or harm diversity. The lack of data has allowed broadcast lobbyists to make the preposterous claim that no such harms exist. That wishful thinking mistakes the FCC’s gross inaction for a sign that deregulation doesn’t undermine efforts to create a broadcast-media system featuring multiple viewpoints and owners.
“It’s blatantly obvious to many who commented in the docket that rule changes allowing consolidation would lead to the biggest broadcasters getting even bigger. Given the disgraceful lack of diversity among current license holders, unleashing even more consolidation would be disastrous. Letting these massive conglomerates buy up even more broadcast stations would eliminate opportunities for women and people of color to purchase those stations.
“The agency should reject the broadcast industry’s callous suggestion that diversity is better accomplished online than in traditional media. This absurd idea ignores the unique role that broadcasting plays in our media system, and shows a disturbing lack of concern for the public-interest commitments all broadcasters are obligated to fulfill.
“The FCC launched this quadrennial review because it’s required to. But it’s done so without completing the analysis that a court mandated in three previous rounds of this fight. The FCC should preserve the existing ownership limits and finally commit to conducting the analysis that would allow it to accurately evaluate the impact of its rule changes and promote diversity in broadcast ownership.
“To charge ahead with more deregulation would be premature and destructive.”