Democratic Sens. Want to Freeze FCC Media Decisions

Most of two dozen Democratic senators have written FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in an effort to leverage an upcoming court ruling to delay a decision on Sinclair's proposed purchase of Tribune TV stations and shorten the string on the chairman's broadcast deregulatory weed whacker.

That came at about the same time Pai was telling a House panel he was not going to commit to delay a Sinclair decision for the court decision on the related UHF discount restoration, though he said the FCC would factor the timing of the court decision into its general vetting of the deal.

In the letter, dated Thursday (April 26) 22 signatories said the FCC has to stop making decisions, including, apparently, broadcast deregulation and broadcast-related merger reviews, until it has taken a "holistic look" at the state of broadcasting and the media.

They said they had noted Pai's elimination of local TV and radio ownership limits with growing concern, which they called a relentless dismantling of them with disregard for scar it would inflict on the communications landscape.

They concede that the chairman's opening of an inquiry into the 39% cap at the same time it was reviewing the Sinclair deal--Sinclair has advocated for raising the cap--could simply be an "unfortunate coincidence," they say they are still concerned about a "preordained" outcome.

It could be preordained to the degree that with a Republican President, deregulatory Republicans now hold a majority on the commission. All three of those commissioners, including former Pai advisor Brendan Carr, are squarely behind deregulation broadcast ownership, though commissioner Michael O'Rielly questions whether the FCC has the authority to adjust the 39% cap set by Congress.

Democratic senators signing on to the bill were Bill Nelson, Brian Schatz, Maria Cantwell, Dick Durbin, Edward J. Markey, Ron Wyden, Margaret Wood Hassan, Jack Reed, Sheldon Whitehouse, Bernard Sanders, Patty Murray, Tammy Duckworth, Tom Udall, Jeanne Shaheen, Amy Klobuchar, Gary C. Peters, Catherine Cortez Masto, Richard Blumenthal, Tammy Baldwin, Jon Tester, Cory A. Booker, and Jeffrey A. Merkley.

John Eggerton

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.