Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed a handful of rules that it said were keeping the media industry out of the digital age, the Washington Post reports. The decades-old regulations were implemented in order to keep a diversity of perspectives within print, radio, and televised media outlets, but FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says they’re out of date and don’t reflect the current media landscape. “Few of the FCC’s rules are staler than our broadcast ownership regulations,” he said. “This agency finally drags its broadcast ownership rules to the digital age.”
The rules rolled back today include one that prohibited a company from owning a daily newspaper and a TV station within the same market, another that limited how many TV stations and radio stations one entity could own within a given market, one that prevented companies from owning multiple TV stations in a single market if it would result in fewer than eight independently owned stations, a rule that required the sale of advertising time on another station to count against the brokering station’s ownership limits and one that prevented a single company from owning two of the top four stations in a market.
These changes are great news for broadcasting company Sinclair, which purchased Tribune Media earlier this year for $3.9 billion and was expected to have to sell off a fair amount of its stations in order to receive FCC approval. These rollbacks mean it will likely not have to do that. The FCC also voted to approve the new broadcast standard Next Gen TV, technology which Sinclair holds key patents to. Yesterday, over a dozen senators penned a letter to the FCC Inspector General asking him to review evidence of Pai’s impartiality when it comes to Sinclair. “Chairman Pai has signaled his clear receptiveness to approving the Sinclair-Tribune transaction and in fact paved the way for its consummation,” they wrote.
Some are pleased with today’s rule changes. The National Association of Broadcasters said in a statement, “These rules are not only irrational in today’s media environment, but they have also weakened the newspaper industry, cost journalism jobs and forced local broadcast stations onto unequal footing with our national pay-TV and radio competitors.” But others are concerned over reduced diversity in the media market and dangerous consolidations of power. “As a result of this decision, wherever you live, the FCC is giving the green light for a single company to own the newspaper and multiple television and radio stations in your community. I am hard pressed to see any commitment to diversity, localism, or competition in that result,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who has also expressed her concern over the FCC’s Next Gen TV decision, said. “Instead of engaging in thoughtful reform, this agency sets its most basic values on fire.”