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The Fate of Net Neutrality Hinges on the House

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WASHINGTON — The FCC voted on Tuesday to eliminate the “main studio rule,” which requires TV and radio broadcasters to maintain studios in or near the communities they serve.

The party-line vote was led by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who has close ties to the Sinclair Broadcast Group, one of the rule change’s chief beneficiaries. Sinclair’s proposed $3.9 billion merger with Tribune Media is now being reviewed by government agencies including the Justice Department and the FCC. Should regulators approve the merger, the resulting broadcast giant would control more than 233 local TV stations reaching 72 percent of the country’s population, far in excess of congressional and FCC limits on national and local media ownership.

Eliminating the main studio rule directly benefits broadcast conglomerates like Sinclair that want to expand their local holdings without maintaining a presence in and engaging directly with the communities they’re supposed to serve.

Sinclair routinely requires all of its stations to run right-wing commentaries that are produced in the company’s corporate headquarters in Maryland and in its studios in Washington, D.C.

A recent Sinclair “Town Hall” segment featured former Trump White House staffer Sebastian Gorka claiming a national epidemic of what he called “Black African gun crime against Black Africans.” He added that “Black young men are murdering each other by the bushel,” doubling down on his unsubstantiated racist rhetoric. The FCC is enabling the distribution of this kind of hateful content by eliminating requirements, like the main studio rule, that would keep local broadcasters more accountable to the communities they serve.  

Pai reportedly met with Sinclair executives on several occasions just prior to becoming Trump’s nominee to head the FCC and since assuming leadership of the agency. By May, he proposed his plan to eliminate the main studio rule.  

Free Press Policy Analyst Dana Floberg made the following statement:

“With today’s vote Chairman Pai has given another massive handout to his friends and political allies at Sinclair. By eliminating this rule, the Commission has blasted open a path for conglomerates like Sinclair to move even more resources — including broadcast facilities and staff — away from underserved communities. The main studio rule was a vital way to preserve broadcast media’s local roots and to hold local stations accountable when they fail to serve the people they’re licensed to cover.

“This change will hit low-income families, rural populations and people of color the hardest. At a time when broadcast conglomerates like Sinclair are gobbling up new stations and pulling media resources out of marginalized communities, we still need the main studio rule to help connect broadcasters to the local viewers and listeners they’re supposed to serve. Taking away this essential protection is a slap in the face to communities who rely on local broadcast for critical news and information that’s responsive to their needs.”

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