Editorial: Writing’s on the Wall

At least broadcasters finally have some regulatory certainty, though not the kind they would have liked. The FCC last week signaled there would be no quadrennial-rule-review regulatory relief for broadcasters anytime soon.

Give the commission at least this much: it admitted the unavoidable, that the marketplace has changed. But even with that, it—or more specifically a three-commissioner Democratic majority— still refused to lift or loosen the media ownership regulations that have been in place for decades.

Come to think of it, who could really blame the FCC? It is so likely that there will be a rush by broadcast stations to purchase newspapers, which have been doing so well lately, in order to dominate the conversation. Why, if the FCC allowed powerful media companies to own newspapers as well, they would all be doing as swimmingly as Tribune; and the next thing you know, some Internet baron would buy up The Washington Post in D.C., thereby threatening the diversity of voices in, of all places, our nation’s capital.

But we digress.

Each time the FCC refuses to lift the newspaper- broadcast cross-ownership rules, as it did again last week, we will remind everyone of the opinions expressed by a trio of former FCC chairmen, Republican and Democrat, in a C-SPAN interview in 2010, when online video competition was not nearly the tough-as-Francis “House of Cards” Underwood competitor it is today.

They—Michael Powell, Kevin Martin and Reed Hundt—all agreed the ban should be scrapped, and conceded they did not suggest pulling the plug themselves thanks to threats, explicit or implied, from politicians concerned about the power of local media outlets to affect their political futures.

Actually, let’s digress again. In fact, we’re pretty confident the current chairman took deregulation off the table and pushed any decision on a quadrennial review off for a couple of years because he believes it is the right thing to do.

We disagree. And so, apparently, do those former chairmen.

To sum up: The FCC has begun dismantling JSAs, is eyeing other sharing arrangements, won’t lift local or national ownership caps, has all but banned coordinated retransmission consent negotiations among top market stations, won’t loosen crossownership bans and may require some UHF station owners to start selling stations if it eliminates the UHF discount as proposed. Let’s see, what else… oh, yes, it has also thrown a scare into broadcasters who might have considered post-auction channelsharing agreements but now fear those could be, to quote Emily Dickinson, “in a moment contraband.”

Speaking of poetic justice: We’re not sure what FCC chairman Tom Wheeler can say to broadcasters at the NAB convention this week that will give them any more hope for that golden future he has talked about beyond all that glitter of an easy payout, but curiosity over how he might plan to answer that question may be the only thing keeping staffers from misplacing his credentials at the door.