Timothy Karr

Sinclair Announces Station Takeover One Day After Trump's FCC Votes to Loosen Ownership Caps

On April 20, the Federal Communications Commission voted to reinstate an obsolete loophole called the UHF discount that will allow broadcast conglomerates to exceed congressionally mandated national TV audience coverage limits. April 21, Sinclair Broadcast Group, the nation’s largest television station conglomerate, announced a $240 million deal to buy 14 television stations owned by Bonten Media Group.

Sinclair is also reported to be in negotiations to buy stations owned by Tribune Media Co., a move that would put Sinclair 30 percentage points over the national broadcast ownership cap, if not for the FCC’s move reinstating the UHF discount. The vote came following press reports by Bloomberg News that Chairman Pai had conducted meetings with Sinclair executives days after the Nov. 8 presidential election. Chairman Pai was subsequently tapped by the Trump administration to lead the agency that oversees broadcast ownership limits. Free Press CEO and President Craig Aaron said, “This is a scandal. Sinclair has been boosting Trump and wooing Pai for months — and it’s paying off in the form of the looser limits Sinclair has long sought on how many TV stations the company can own. Sinclair has a track record of taking over stations, gutting news departments and airing conservative propaganda produced far from the local community."

Trump's FCC and FTC Chairs Rush in to Defend Big Telco's Assault on Internet Privacy

It’s hard to defend legislation that undermines internet users’ essential privacy rights. But that hasn’t stopped the broadband industry and its many friends in Washington from trying.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai and Federal Trade Commission Acting Chair Maureen Ohlhausen dismiss the public outpouring of anger as the work of a few professional lobbyists and lawyers. Their claim is insulting to the millions of people who are rightly outraged. And these two should know better than to blame “lobbyists,” especially since both are DC lawyers who once represented the interests of mammoth communications companies.

The President's Attack on Public Broadcasting Puts Him at Odds with the American People

On March 16, the president proposed eliminating all federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a main revenue source for hundreds of local NPR and PBS stations across the country. The CPB’s $445 million cut amounts to just 0.04 percent of the $1.1 trillion of total annual discretionary spending in the president’s proposal — or approximately $1.35 per person. Seen through another lens, that $445 million amounts to little more than 2 percent of the total cost of Trump’s proposed Mexican border wall — estimated at $21.6 billion by the Department of Homeland Security.

Groups like the Free Press Action Fund and millions of people across the country will fight to save the CPB. A 2017 poll rated PBS and its 350 member stations as the most-trusted nationally known institution. Survey respondents also rated the federal funding that supports PBS as taxpayer money “well spent.” Public and community media are treasured local institutions that are far more popular than Congress or this president.

Decoding the Doublespeak of FCC Chairman Pai

[Commentary] The Washington Post noted that Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai likes to talk the talk of bridging the digital divide—during his first speech as FCC chairman, he said it would be a top agency priority. But when the FCC released his anti-Lifeline action days later, “he opened another gap,” wrote the Post, “this time between his words and his actions.” It’s the sort of head fake that’s familiar to those who’ve followed Pai’s career as a lead apologist for the phone companies he once worked for—and still serves.

This list of Pai’s miscues on key policy issues makes amply clear the many harmful directions the new FCC chairman will lead the agency through the Trump years.

  • Commissioner Pai on the 2015 Net Neutrality Proceeding: “[The ruling is] President Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet. ... Was this proceeding ‘one of the most open and transparent in Commission history’? Not in the least.”
  • Commissioner Pai on the Threat to an Open Internet: “[Net neutrality] regulation was a solution that wouldn’t work for a problem that didn’t exist.”
  • Commissioner Pai on the Impact the Net Neutrality Rules Have Had on Investment: “Growth in broadband investment has ... flatlined.” “We need to fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation, and job creation ... [net neutrality’s] days are numbered.”
  • Commissioner Pai on the FCC Effort to Protect Broadband-User Data from Prying ISPs: “Instead of respecting ... common sense ... the FCC tilts the regulatory playing field by proposing to impose more burdensome regulation on internet service providers, or ISPs, than the FTC imposes on so-called ‘edge providers.’”
  • Commissioner Pai on Offering Affordable Broadband to Those in Need: “If we are going to refocus Lifeline on broadband, our goal should be increasing broadband adoption—that is, helping Americans without internet access across the digital divide, not supporting those who have already made the leap.”

Are Police Biased Against Independent Journalists?

On Inauguration Day, police arrested six journalists who were covering protests in Washington (DC). The reporters were hauled before Superior Court judges and each charged with felony counts of “inciting to riot” and cause bodily harm, a crime punishable up to a maximum of 10 years in jail and fines of up to $25,000. By pressing charges against some reporters while releasing others, authorities have made a value judgment about what sort of journalism gets protected and what leads to severe legal penalties. It appears police have a bias against smaller independent reporters and freelancers, who may lack the backing and legal support of larger media outlets.

Government should not be in the position of deciding who is and who isn’t a journalist. Authorities can’t determine who’s allowed to engage in acts of journalism and who doesn’t have the right. But the First Amendment isn’t enough. People need to stand up for these reporters — especially now that they are under attack on so many fronts — and show their outrage by speaking out in support of journalists’ rights whenever these arrests occur.

Don't Let Trump Kill Public Media

The Trump Administration is pushing a plan to axe funding to hundreds of local NPR and PBS stations around the country. After coming out of an election where fake news was rampant and cable-news networks refused to call out racism, the last thing we need is an attack on public broadcasting.

Trump's transition team is reportedly recommending privatizing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), the entity that oversees distribution of federal money to public radio and television stations. While the United States spends a fraction of what other countries pay on public broadcasting, that hasn’t stopped politicians from threatening to defund the CPB time and again. One of the most high-profile attacks in recent history came in 2012, when then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney said during a debate that he would “cut the subsidy to PBS.” The backlash was swift and severe. We've saved public broadcasting from cuts many times before. We can save it again — but only if millions of us speak out.

Five Years Later, SOPA and PIPA Serve as a Warning to the Trump Administration

Five years ago today, millions of people came together to shock Washington into action on behalf of the public. Jan 18, 2012 was a day of mass protests against legislation that would have undermined the free and open exchange of information online. The lobbyist-fueled SOPA and PIPA bills were designed to shut down massive tracts of internet content without due process or accountability. The Washington consensus was that this legislation’s passage was a foregone conclusion.

But on Jan 18, we stopped the inevitable. Fifty thousand websites — including Google, Wikipedia and Reddit — symbolically “blacked out” their webpages to protest the legislation. Nearly 10 million people took action online or by phone, urging Congress to ditch the bill. By the end of the day, dozens of senators had come forward to oppose PIPA. The House version, SOPA, had already been put on hold after then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi bent to public pressure and tweeted that they “need[ed] to find a better solution.” A Senate staffer at the time said that “phones were melting” across Capitol Hill. However important the SOPA/PIPA victory was in 2012, its lasting significance depends on how well the internet-freedom coalition holds together in the fights that lie ahead. Whatever form these new threats take, millions of people must remain united and ready to act.

Fighting for Techdirt and All Independent Media

[Commentary] Anyone who’s followed Techdirt’s reporting and analysis over the years knows how vital this news outlet has been when it comes to clearing the fog that often clouds policy debates about Net Neutrality, broadband access, spectrum allocation, copyright reform and media ownership.

Founder Mike Masnick’s incisive reporting and piercing commentary during the fight against the SOPA and PIPA legislation — which would have allowed the film and recording industries to black out huge tracts of internet content without due process — undercut Hollywood’s bogus claims in support of these bad bills. In his frequent coverage of Net Neutrality and other tech policy issues, Karl Bode skewers the sophistry of lobbyists, PR consultants and think tankers on the payroll of the big phone and cable companies. It's not enough for these and other Techdirt writers to be on the right side of an issue. They bring a healthy skepticism to all arguments, even calling out Free Press on occasion. Techdirt is a trusted source that keeps us all honest. Yet for doing so Techdirt has earned itself a few enemies. The publication is now in the battle of its life against Shiva Ayyadurai, a sometime technologist who claims he invented email. Techdirt’s alleged infraction in this $15 million lawsuit is publishing a series of stories that cite credible sources disputing Ayyadurai’s claims.

Our Last, Best Chance to Reinvent Local News

[Commentary] Over the last 25 years, daily newspapers have shed as many as 25,000 newsroom jobs. The United States has just under half the number of local newspaper journalists working today as it did in 1990. Jobs in local broadcast radio and television have suffered in similar ways as many owners have responded to a changing market by downsizing newsrooms and requiring the remaining reporters to cover more beats. There’s hope we can fix this before the next national election.

Right now we have a tremendous opportunity to ensure that both existing local newsrooms and startups have the money they need to do the reporting that supports civic life. In June the Federal Communications Commission began a long-awaited auction that will involve a major redistribution of the public airwaves. The FCC is urging broadcasters, including dozens of public television stations, to abandon their channels or move elsewhere on the dial to free up bandwidth for data-hungry users of mobile services like AT&T and Verizon. This is potentially the most important development for local news and information since President Lyndon Johnson signed the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, which helped establish NPR, PBS and their many local affiliates and programs.

[Timothy Karr is the senior director of strategy for Free Press]

President-elect Trump's Communication Rights Wrecking Crew

[Commentary] One of President-elect Donald Trump’s top tech-policy advisers has a plan: Do away with the main agency that protects the rights of Internet users and media consumers in America. You heard that right. Mark Jamison, who President-elect Trump chose to help oversee the tech-policy transition team, thinks that getting rid of the Federal Communications Commission would be a good thing for this country. “Most of the original motivations for having an FCC have gone away,” Jamison wrote in Oct, claiming that a heavily consolidated media marketplace would discipline itself to benefit ordinary people. He’s dead wrong.

If President-elect Trump were the least bit sincere about his claims to “drain the swamp” of lobbyists and special-interest operatives, he couldn’t have done much worse than selecting Jamison and Jeffrey Eisenach. If he wants to make good on his pledge to block AT&T’s $107-billion acquisition of Time Warner — which he called “too much concentration of power in the hands of too few” — he’ll have to lock horns with these two big-media boosters.