Dems Ask Pai to Delay Ownership Rule Decision

While most broadcasters have been cheering FCC chairman Ajit Pai's likely weed-whacking of some media ownership regs—and efforts already related to the UHF discount and joint sales agreements—Hill Dems are telling the chairman such actions are tantamount to taking "a wrecking ball" to "the pillars of localism and diversity" in local broadcasting.

In a letter to to Pai Friday (Sept. 29), two dozen Senate Democrats said Pai should take no more actions without first undertaking a "thorough public review" of the broadcast marketplace.

The Dems argue that decades-old ownership caps are still needed given the "unique" role and obligations of broadcasters. Broadcasters have told the FCC that to continue to provide that public service, they need the scale reduced regs would allow.

But the Dems have "grave" concerns that allowing broadcasters to heavy up threaten the broadcasting tradition of localism and diversity.

While the proposed Sinclair-Tribune deal was apparently the merger that must not be named, the senators talked a good deal about it. They said Pai's restoration of the UHF discount paved the way for "the largest proposed television broadcast merger in history."

The Dems reiterate their concern that Pai took steps to aid the business plans of "a single company"—that would be Sinclair—saying that it was "obvious" that without the discount, the deal would not be done,

They added that reports had it the chairman planned to eliminate or "seriously weaken" the ownership limits this fall.

Pai, who has made no secret of his intention to try and lift what he says are outmoded limits created before the explosion of competing digital platforms, is widely expected to eliminate the newspaper-brodcast crossownership rules and likely allow for more smaller market duopolies.

The senators said that such moves would be a declaration that further consolidation is "warranted and welcome."

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.