Public Interest Obligations
Led by children's TV legislation author Sen Ed Markey (D-MA) a group of Democratic senators have called on the Federal Communications Commission to leave its kids TV mandates in place. "Kid Vid’ rules remain important today, especially for the many underserved families who rely on free broadcast stations for educational content,” they wrote. “Many families cannot access or afford the broadband speeds necessary for streaming online video and have trouble paying for monthly pay-TV subscription services," the senators wrote.
Debate over the so-called Fairness Doctrine was renewed at a Senate Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee hearing May 17 when Sen Joe Manchin (D-WV) quizzed Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai on the issue. The hearing was wrapping up when Sen Manchin interrupted the closing comments of subcommittee chairman Sen James Lankford (R-OK) to ask if he could say something more. That something was suggesting that the current "toxicity" in the political arena could be traced to the doctrine's demise.
Unfortunately, there is a false narrative in Washington (DC) that ATSC 3.0 will only benefit one particular company. In fact, this narrative goes even further, suggesting everything the Federal Communications Commission has done in the media space over the last 17 months has been to benefit one company, in this case, Sinclair Broadcast Group. This misguided fantasy is perplexing to other broadcast stations across the country that have seen real benefits to our actions.
Chairman Pai's Response to Sen Durbin Regarding Sinclair Broadcast Proposal to Acquire Tribune Media
On April 16, 2018, Sen Dick Durbin (D-IL) wrote to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai regarding the merger between Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media Company. "In making its determination whether the proposed merger to allow a single company to reach 72 percent of U.S. television households serves the public interest, I urge the FCC to carefully consider Sinclair's conduct and the significant harm it poses," Sen Durbin wrote.
The Federal Communications Commission launched a proceeding to consider eliminating various rules that require the maintenance and posting of broadcast licenses and related information in specific locations. The FCC originally adopted broadcast license posting rules in 1930. Over the years, it expanded these rules to apply to new services that were deployed by broadcasters.
The Federal Communications Commission faced skeptical questioning from judges about a rule change that made way for Sinclair Broadcast Group’s proposed acquisition of Tribune Media, raising the possibility of turmoil for the $3.9 billion deal. Judges at the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, hearing a challenge April 20 to the change, questioned why the FCC had reinstated a rule allowing owners of some TV stations to count just part of their audience when tallying holdings against a national limit of 39 percent.
The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit April 20 is hearing oral argument in the Free Press v. Federal Communications Commission challenge to the FCC's reinstatement of the UHF discount. A politically divided FCC under Chairman Ajit Pai voted back in April 2017 to reverse the previous Democratic majority's decision to eliminate the discount. That discount meant TV station group owners only had to count half of the audience to their UHF stations towards the 39% national audience reach cap.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai immediately shot down a request to investigate Sinclair Broadcasting Group for distorting the news, and to pause the review of Sinclair's pending acquisition of Tribune Media. Chairman Pai said the FCC doesn’t have the authority to revoke licenses based on the content of newscasts.
[Commentary] Network news is nationally scripted for a national audience. The New York-based networks such as ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC feed common fare to all their affiliates. That is precisely why broadcasting policy – until the Trump Federal Communications Commission – has expected those local affiliates to use the medium for local news and information. Sinclair’s broadcast licenses mandate the provision of local services, not a de facto new national network with pre-scripted national messages.
A dozen Democratic senators are asking the Federal Communications Commission to investigate Sinclair Broadcasting Group for distorting the news.
The FCC should also pause its review of Sinclair's acquisition of Tribune Media — a merger that could expand the nation's largest broadcaster from 193 stations to 223 stations covering 72% of US homes — the senators say, to determine whether the deal is in the public interest.