Free Press to Court: Sinclair Is Exhibit A for UHF Discount Harms

Free Press, which is leading a legal challenge to the FCC's decision to reinstate the UHF discount, has supplied the court with documents it says establishes the various groups' standing to bring the suit.

That includes the testimonies from members of each group who would be affected by the FCC decision, which the court signaled was necessary documentation. They were all from Sinclair markets, whose deal to buy Tribune stations was made possible by the return of the discount, as would the spin-off of some stations in that deal to Fox, which would increase its reach to 45.9% without the discount--the FCC cap on national audience is 39%.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard oral argument April 20 in the case.

According to that argument, the judges clearly had concerns about not having statements from individual members of the associations establishing particular harms, though one judge suggested Free Press et. al could still submit them, which it did late last week.

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Free Press pointed to the alleged harms of that deal, and by extension other station deals--decrease in localism, cheaper programming--combined with testimonials establishing it had members in those Sinclair markets who said they would be or had been hurt, including by Sinclair's purchase of Bonten stations last year. Sinclair says the deal will boost local news and give it scale to compete with other video distribution platforms not subject to any ownership restrictions..

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In its court filing, Free Press signaled it was supplementing its showing and conceded it had mistakenly believed that the record already supported that standing, though argued it had reason for believing that was the case.

"Neither this nor any other Court has held that organizations must identify particular viewer-members to obtain standing to review an FCC ownership rulemaking," Free Press told the court. "While standing claims can be raised at any time, Petitioners’ reasonable belief was reinforced because after the 2009 Summers decision, similar standing claims have gone unchallenged in this Court."

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.