House Dems Want Further GAO Review of TV Sharing Deals

House Democratic leaders Frank Palone (D-N.J.) and Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) want the General Accountability Office to look into the impact of various local broadcaster sharing agreements on competition, localism and diversity.

Hill Dems have been critical of Sinclair's inclusion of such agreements with stations it is spinning off to secure government approval of its efforts to buy Tribune TV stations, suggesting it is using the agreements to continue to control stations it is supposed to be divesting.

As part of the media reg rollback under FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the FCC invalidated the previous Democratically controlled commission's advice that it would vet shared services agreements (SSAs) under what amounted to strict scrutiny because they could be used as a way to establish de facto control without running afoul of local ownership rules.

"These agreements allow one station – typically one with larger market share – to provide services such as news reporting and advertising sales for another typically smaller station," E&C Dems said in announcing the request for GAO to investigate them. "While historically a means for marginal local stations to pool resources, such agreements have been used by Sinclair Broadcast Group in an effort to circumvent media consolidation protections."

Related: TV Stations Must Start Enhanced SSA Reporting

Pallone and Doyle want the GAO to look into the following, they said in a letter:

"What is known about the extent of agreements between local broadcasters and how they affect local markets, particularly smaller markets?

1."To what extent have agreements between local broadcasters affected the diversity of news in a market and to what extent are viewers aware of shared news stories, scripts, and other effects of such agreements?"

2."To what extent has the FCC defined targets for meeting its policy goals of competition, localism, and diversity and assessed how broadcaster agreements affect such goals?

3."To what extent has the FCC assessed the effect of broadcaster agreements on its policy goals of competition, localism, and diversity and how, if it all, could its analysis of these goals be strengthened?"

4.The legislators concede that GAO has already looked into the agreements twice before--in 2014 and 2016--but said there was now more information to factor into the equation.

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.