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Common Cause Praises FCC JSA Limits

Common Cause says waves of consolidation have eroded the quality of local media and urges the FCC to metaphorically man the pumps and build up the bulwarks.

That is according to the prepared testimony of Todd O'Boyle of Common Cause for a Sept. 25 broadcast ownership hearing in the House Communications Subcommittee.

O'Boyle calls joint sales agreements covert consolidation loopholes that the FCC had allowed by looking the other way while media monopolists exploited them. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler also suggested as much when he proposed, and the FCC adopted in March 2014, rules limiting those JSA's by making the attributable as ownership interests.

O'Boyle gave that move a shout out. "Thankfully, the FCC more recently did a good job of recognizing that sophisticated, nested ownership structures which facilitate financial shell games violate the public interest."

He pointed out that within months of that decision, "the agency reported 10 new minority/female ownership arrangements, the first meaningful gains in minority and female ownership in years."

Broadcasters have argued that JSA's help them to preserve local voices, but O'Boyle was having none of it.

"Broadcasters frequently defend these tricks of the trade as essential to keeping the lights on," he said in his testimony. "They often paint a grim picture that but for these financial arrangements, broadcasts would go dark. Those protestations notwithstanding, we are hard pressed to find evidence of JSAs and SSAs that keep the books balanced during tough economic times. On the contrary, the bevy of recently announced mergers illustrates that broadcast business is booming, thanks to record ad sales–the bulk of which come from political advertising."

He said Common Cause wants broadcasters to flourish, and if they have a good argument why JSA's do that in individual cases, they are free to seek a waiver from the FCC.

There are various legislative initiatives to block the FCC's JSA limits, either by not funding them, or overturning them. O'Boyle said that would e a "staggering step backward."

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.