WASHINGTON — At a House oversight hearing on Wednesday, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced plans to obliterate longstanding media-ownership rules, including limits on how many stations one company can own in a single market and a longstanding ban on newspapers owning stations in the same market.
Chairman Pai’s announcement follows the FCC’s moves to restore the so-called UHF discount that allows large chains to conceal the reach of their stations and to end requirements that owners of television and radio stations operate studios in or near the communities they’re supposed to serve.
Pai has close ties to the Sinclair Broadcast Group, whose 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 deal, 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.
The FCC limits to Sinclair’s potential size are the same rules Chairman Pai is now seeking to undo.
Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron made the following statement:
“Ajit Pai’s disastrous proposal is tailor-made for Sinclair and other giant broadcast chains that push often slanted or cookie-cutter content over the public airwaves. He’s fulfilling a longstanding industry wish list and ignoring how decades of runaway media consolidation have significantly harmed local news and independent voices. The FCC has routinely failed — and been repeatedly scolded by the courts for doing so — to consider how gutting these rules will impact already abysmally low levels of broadcast ownership by women and people of color.
“We need to strengthen local voices and increase viewpoint diversity, not surrender our airwaves to an ever-smaller group of giant conglomerates. Pai is clearly committed to doing the bidding of companies like Sinclair and clearing any obstacles to their voracious expansion. But his attempt will be met with fierce opposition at the Commission and in the courts.”