Public Interest Obligations
Perhaps the biggest news of the week was the agenda for the Federal Communications Commission's July 10 Open Meeting, which FCC Chairman Ajit Pai laid out in a blog post on June 18, 2019. I'm traveling to New York this week; below is a shorter-than-usual weekly that takes a look at how Chairman Pai plans to take education out of the Educational Broadband Service -- and broadcast television.
The FCC ruled that there are substantial and material questions as to whether Sinclair is qualified to be a broadcast licensee. There is only one way to resolve these questions in a transparent manner that allows public participation: a hearing on the renewal of Sinclair’s broadcast television licenses.
I’ve spent just over 30 years working to ensure that all Americans benefit from accessible, affordable, and open communications networks that promote democratic values. But none of that would have been possible without Everett Parker’s accomplishments. As this audience knows well, Everett worked hand-in-hand with the Rev. Martin Luther King and the civil rights community to challenge the broadcast license of WLBT-TV, a Jackson, Mississippi, station that broadcast racist propaganda and refused to cover the civil rights movement.
On June 28, 2017, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media Company filed applications seeking to transfer control of Tribune subsidiaries to Sinclair. Sinclair and Tribune have amended their applications several times thereafter, in an attempt to bring the transaction into compliance with the Commission’s national television multiple ownership rule, as well as the public interest requirements of the Communications Act.
Rounding out our December meeting will be two matters that were previewed yesterday.
First, the Federal Communications Commission will consider an order that would restore Internet freedom and return to the bipartisan, light-touch framework that helped America's Internet economy become the envy of the world. And unlike the previous Administration, which pushed through its Internet regulations without letting the public see what was being proposed, anyone can read my plan. It's on the Commission's website —more than three weeks before our scheduled vote.
Senators Call for Impartial Investigation into Potential Quid Pro Quo between Chairman Ajit Pai, Trump Administration, and Sinclair Broadcasting
Sens Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Tom Udall (D-NM), and 13 of their Senate colleagues are requesting the inspector general of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) open an investigation into the objectivity and impartiality of the FCC’s review of the proposed merger of Sinclair Broadcasting and Tribune Media.
Regarding the adoption of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comment on whether to modify the FCC’s FM Booster Rules to permit geo-targeted content to originate from FM booster stations, which could provide a way for small and minority-owned stations to better serve their communities by offering hyper-localized content including alternative language news, weather, emergency alerts, and advertising periodically during the broadcast day:
Months before COVID-19, the Federal Communications Commission voted to loosen broadcasters’ obligations to carry core “educational and informative” content across their networks. The National Association of Broadcasters thanked the FCC profusely, touting that obligations to carry “low-rated children’s programming” would have serious economic consequences when stations were already dealing with shrinking profits.
Rep Jim Hagedorn (R-MN) and KTOE DJ Al Travis Thielfoldt face further questions about the nature of their working relationship as documents raise questions over whether Rep Hagedorn’s campaign paid Thielfoldt for radio interviews. The Free Press recently obtained a series of invoices written by Thielfoldt in his work as a paid advertising consultant to the campaign covering Sept 2019 and the first five months of 2020. In those monthly invoices, Thielfoldt lists dates of interviews he or others conducted with Rep Hagedorn on KTOE as well as interview blocks of time.
The First Amendment protects us from limits on speech imposed by the government—not private actors—and we should all reject demands, in the name of the First Amendment, for private actors to curate or publish speech in a certain way. I shudder to think of a day in which the Fairness Doctrine could be reincarnated by some other name, especially at the ironic behest of so-called speech “defenders.” Further, like it or not, the First Amendment’s protections apply to corporate entities, especially when they engage in editorial decision making.