FCC sued over media ownership rules that apparently favor Sinclair

FCC memberse 2017
An internal investigation is underway at the FCC to determine whether Chairman Ajit Pai improperly favored Sinclair with recent rule changes that allow broadcasters to own more TV stations. (FCC)

The FCC is being sued by a group of organizations that allege the Commission’s recent local media ownership rule changes disproportionately favor broadcasters, in particular Sinclair.

The Free Press, Common Cause, Communications Workers of America and the United Church of Christ have banded together to file the lawsuit with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The filing, which arrives as Sinclair is trying to wrap up regulatory review of its $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media, says the FCC through its rule changes has “failed to consider the impact of its decisions on localism, diversity and competition in broadcast ownership.”

“The Pai FCC is a gift to the broadcast industry, as the commission bends over backwards to give favors to massive media conglomerates like Sinclair. What’s more, the FCC is attempting to ram through this deregulation without doing its homework. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has directed the agency—three times—to examine how its media ownership rule changes impact broadcast ownership diversity. Shamefully, and in direct violation of the court’s orders, no proper evaluation has occurred,” said Free Press Deputy Director and Senior Counsel Jessica J. González in a statement.

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González also contends that people of color in America already own a “pathetically low” amount of broadcast outlets and that further broadcast consolidation makes it harder for them to do so.

“Runaway consolidation gouges newsrooms and hurts communities—especially marginalized communities that more often depend on broadcast TV for local news. The courts must step in to avert this impending disaster and protect the public from Pai’s pro-consolidation plans,” González said.

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An internal investigation is underway at the FCC to determine whether Chairman Ajit Pai improperly favored Sinclair with recent rule changes that allow broadcasters to own more TV stations.

Last year, the FCC reinstated the UHF discount, a rule that allows broadcasters to count UHF signals at 50% toward the national audience reach cap. Shortly after that rule change, Sinclair announced plans to acquire Tribune Media for $3.9 billion.

For his part, Pai has defended his actions against accusations of bias toward Sinclair or any other companies.

“Whether I have been pushing for the revitalization of AM radio or fighting to ensure that broadcast television stations were treated fairly in the incentive auction proceeding, my actions have been motivated by my belief that a strong over-the-air broadcast service advances the public interest. They have not been fueled by a desire to help any particular company,” Pai wrote in a letter responding to lawmakers’ questions about the FCC’s dealings with the White House and Sinclair.