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Ion, Other Indies, Push For Clean STELA

Voices for TV Choices launched Feb. 27 a coalition of 170 independent TV stations (Ion accounts 60 of those).

In addition to reminding policymakers about the importance of independently owned stations and their contributions to media diversity, the group will be pushing for a clean reauthorization of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA), that must be reauthorized by year's end or expire.

The group will be looking to keep must-carry (they are all must-carry stations) related issues out of the bill—some legislators are pushing to end the must-carry/retrans regime—as well as any Communications Act rewrite coming down the pike. They have an ally in House Communications Subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who is holding a STELA hearing next week. But other House members are looking to address other issues, like retrans blackouts, for instance.

Over in the Senate, the Commerce Committee put out a request for info on what should be in STELA and it teed up a lot of issues, from retrans to over-the-top to must-buy tiers, just what the new coalition doesn't want to see happen.

STELA renews the FCC's authority to mandate good-faith bargaining in retrans, so that issue is likely unavoidable in the debate running up to the end-of-year deadline.

“Our story is not well known and we aim to change that," said Gary Cocola, chairman and CEO of coalition member Cocola Broadcasting. "We are definitely not your grandfather’s independent television.”

Homeland and House of Cards may be the programs that make national news, but the membership of Voices for TV Choices is evidence that there is also a large audience for an array of targeted and local programming, including a multiplicity of children’s educational programming; religious and Christian youth programming; Vietnamese, Armenian, Korean, Japanese and Cambodian programming; local news and local sports; Latino, Spanish-language and African-American religious and general interest programming; movie and lifestyle channels—and more."

The coalition says that in addition to its 170 stations, it accounts for an additional 330 multicast channels.

Coalitions are beginning to multiply around broadcaster issues. The TVFreedom coalition launched three weeks ago, its members the major affiliate groups, who are also lobbying against retrans-related issues in STELA or the planned Communications Act rewrite.