Klobuchar, Other Senators, Back COVID-19 Aid for More Local Media

Potential vice presidential pick Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) is one of four senators, two Democrats, two Republicans, who are calling for more local broadcasters and newspapers to be included in future COVID-19 small business assistant legislation, pointing out they are essential businesses in helping communities stay safe and informed. 

That came in a letter to Senate leadership Sunday, according to the office of Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.). Others on the letter were Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.). 

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“Ensuring that local news outlets remain viable at this critical time is not only a matter of fairness, but is essential to public health. Local newspapers, radio, and television stations provide important local content that keeps their communities informed,” wrote the senators.  

Kennedy's office said the pandemic has had a "devastating" impact on local media outlets, citing the National Association of Broadcasters finding that some of its members have reported as much as a 90% plunge in ad revenue. Nationwide, the TV and radio business is anticipated to lose at least $3 billion, according to Kennedy. 

The senators said allowing for local TV and radio stations and newspapers to qualify as small businesses, even if part of a larger group that would not qualify collectively, would ensure that "financial assistance flows to the local affiliate, not the parent company." 

In the CARES Act's Paycheck Protection Program, up to thousands of local media outlets were not included because it restricted the aid that could go to companies owned or controlled by larger entities, even though stations operate independently, they pointed out. 

"Waiving SBA’s affiliation rules for local newspapers and broadcasters and ensuring that financial assistance flows to the local affiliate, not the parent company, would allow these small, local operations to be eligible for much-needed financial relief."

Some cable and satellite operators argue media outlets that are part of large groups like Sinclair or Nexstar or Tegna, should not get the aid. 

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“NAB is grateful to Senators Cantwell, Kennedy, Klobuchar and Boozman for their leadership in supporting expanded access to Small Business Administration loans for local radio and television stations under the Payroll Protection Program,” said NAB president Gordon Smith in a statement. “America’s broadcasters are providing trusted and credible lifesaving coverage to keep citizens safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, yet local stations are suffering advertising losses of historic proportion that will undermine this critically important service. We urge Congressional leaders to support this proposal to provide immediate SBA loan eligibility to more local radio and TV stations.” 

At press time there were reports Congress might be close to a deal on a new aid package.  

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.