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If there are no television stations, then there can be no female- and minority-owned television stations. That’s the big argument from affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox — pitching a bit of deregulation to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The high court will soon be deciding whether or not to review media ownership rules. Specifically, the FCC wishes to abandon a ban on a single company owning a local newspaper and broadcast station in a single market as well as a restriction on common ownership of more than a single top-four-rated television station in a given market. The media regulator has repeatedly been restrained from nixing those rules by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which most recently told the FCC to do a better job explaining how allowing more concentration would lead to more female and minority ownership of media outlets.
So how would a single company owning, say, both an NBC station and a Fox station in Chicago or St. Louis or Houston be a welcome development for minorities?
Well, according to this amicus brief (read here), the Third Circuit has overlooked new competitors who operate “largely unregulated.”
“Today, broadcasters’ businesses remain subject to limits on ownership that originated years before the Internet became widely available, before Facebook, YouTube, and Netflix formed part of the media landscape, and before Apple’s iPhone allowed tens of millions of viewers to access video programming on demand on handheld screens,” states the brief. “The incongruity between today’s video landscape and the marketplace envisioned by the ownership rules in 1975, 1999, or even 2006 is staggering, and the consequences of that discrepancy will prove dire for local television broadcasters if the path is not cleared for the FCC to make much-needed updates to its ownership rules.”
If premonitions of a dire situation isn’t sufficiently alarmist, after singing the praises of local TV outlets in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the high court is told that “local television broadcasters cannot remain in business if they cannot compete in an increasingly crowded and fast-growing marketplace that offers viewers a multitude of sources of news, information, and entertainment programming.”
The TV affiliates say they can generate efficiencies and cost savings though common ownership of big TV stations in single markets as well as new television-newspaper combinations. Let the FCC throw out the old rules and there will be an expansion of news-gathering, they say.
And if not?
“Unless the Commission is allowed to make predictive judgments and critically needed updates to its local media ownership rules without judicial second-guessing of the agency’s expert judgments, it is only a matter of time before many local television stations go the way of local newspapers,” write attorneys from Brooks, Pierce as well as Cooley LLP. “No opportunities for women, minorities, or anyone else will be available if local media outlets are non-existent.”
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