FCC Reveals Plan to Roll Back Local Media Ownership Rules

The FCC plans to change rules regarding local media ownership, claiming the 42-year old rules are now outdated. FCC chair Ajit Pai revealed yesterday during a congressional hearing that there will be a vote next month to loosen current rules that prevent companies from owning a newspaper and a broadcast station within the same market. The rules originally intended to guarantee diversity of expression while aiming to curb undue influence over public opinion by an individual or single company. Democratic lawmakers voiced opposition during the hearing, but Pai defended the proposed plan and other recent deregulatory moves.

“The marketplace today is nothing like it was in 1975,” Pai said. The rules were created when newspapers and TV stations were the primary media formats, but now we have a much larger array of influential platforms, including the Internet and tech titans such as Facebook and Google.

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The new plan is the most recent deregulatory action by Trump appointee Pai “to overhaul the media industry,” reports The New York Times. So far, Pai’s “actions have ushered in the possibility of consolidation in the broadcast television industry. In the spring, soon after he lifted a cap on how many stations a single company can own, the Sinclair Broadcast Group announced its intention to buy Tribune Media for $3.9 billion.”

The FCC’s “Republican majority lifted rules that required television stations owners to operate a main studio in each locality,” notes NYT, an announcement that “pleased newspaper groups and broadcast stations, which have lobbied for changes that they say are necessary to compete with online media giants like YouTube and Facebook.”

“The news media industry must have economies of scale to compete in today’s marketplace and to reinvest in reporters and news-gathering operations that maintain an informed democracy and a functioning society,” said David Chavern, president of newspaper trade group News Media Alliance.

While Pai’s push for deregulation is meant “to create a more level playing field for traditional and online media” in an evolving landscape, some consumer groups are fearful that eliminating rules will result in less companies controlling television content.

“It’s a virtual death sentence for local media,” suggested Michael Copps, a former FCC commissioner and special adviser to nonprofit Common Cause.