WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, Free Press filed comments opposing the Federal Communications Commission’s push to grant Fox Corp. permanent waivers of the agency’s newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban so that the company can continue to own and operate WWOR-TV Secaucus, New Jersey, and the New York Post newspaper.
Fox has requested the waivers to continue its control of television stations WWOR and WNYW and the New York Post, all in the New York City/New Jersey metropolitan market, despite an FCC rule that prohibits one company from controlling broadcast and newspaper outlets in a given market.
Last month, the outgoing Pai FCC opened a docket for public feedback on the Fox waiver request, giving an exceedingly abbreviated timeframe for public input on this important matter. Final comments are due by Dec. 8, 2020. Given the condensed timeframe, the FCC appears determined to issue a decision before the agency transfers leadership to a Democratic majority following the Biden administration’s January inauguration. In 2017, the Pai FCC tried to strike down the same cross-ownership limits in play here, but lost on appeal. That case will be argued before the Supreme Court on Jan. 19.
“Fox may fear its cross-ownership’s future under a new administration, but that is no reason to steam ahead with a permanent waiver, especially with the pending transition and pending Supreme Court review of the rules,” Free Press argues in its filing. “The Commission must adhere to its own standards for waiver requests, and doing so should only lead to one outcome: denying Fox’s request for a permanent waiver of the newspaper-broadcaster cross-ownership rule.”
Free Press Senior Policy Counsel Carmen Scurato made the following statement:
“Outgoing FCC Chairman Pai wants to give more favors to media giants before he departs the FCC on January 20. His 11th-hour plan would grant a permanent waiver for Fox to continue to own a New Jersey broadcast station and the New York Post, in violation of the Commission’s own newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule. This would be a terrible decision, but the attempt fits Pai’s pattern of handing out favors to industry giants while undermining the interests of the people he swore to serve.
“The last thing a lame-duck FCC should do is bend the rules, once again, to award the Murdochs with a permanent loophole in rules that encourage localism and diversity in our media. For the nearly 20 years that this temporary waiver has been in effect, Fox has repeatedly failed to live up to its obligations to provide locally responsive programming to communities in New Jersey.
“Our filing documents how Commission neglect led to Fox obtaining this decades-long string of temporary waivers. In each instance, Fox pretended that granting temporary waivers would give it more time to comply with the cross-ownership rule, and were justified by the purported public-interest benefits Fox has promised but never delivered.
“In reality, the Murdochs have never had the public interest in mind. Fox Television Stations’ austerity approach has resulted in job losses and less reporting at WWOR. This lack of local broadcast-news coverage has hampered efforts to hold public officials across New Jersey accountable. The communities that the station is supposed to serve see little-to-no local reporting.
“There’s no need to rush through a permanent decision, especially when Fox’s request fails to address or even meet the Commission’s own standard for a waiver request. Following that standard should lead to only one outcome: denying Fox’s request for a permanent waiver.”