FCC to Shake Up Media Ownership Rules

Ajit Pai FCC Chairman - Getty - H 2017
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In a move that could usher in a wave of consolidation in the media industry, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is proposing to eliminate or change several important local ownership rules on the books for decades.

Among the changes:

— Eliminating a rule that prohibits ownership of a daily print newspaper and a radio or TV station in a given market.

— Eliminating a requirement that at least eight independently owned television stations must remain in the market after combining ownership of two stations.

— Allowing for case-by-case evaluation for those applying for ownership of two top-four ranked stations in the same market.

— Eliminating certain cross-market regulations while keeping others that would allow for an entity to own up to two television stations and eight radio stations in a single market.

The FCC will take a vote on the proposals in November, but they are expected to pass given that Republicans now dominate the media regulatory agency. The new rules would go into effect 30 days after being published in the Federal Register. The text of the proposals will be posted later today on the FCC's website.

Critics of the changes, including many Democrats and some smaller conservative media groups, worry that the rule changes will consolidate power by certain media giants and erode diversity of viewpoints in broadcasting. The proposals come as Sinclair Broadcasting Group seeks approval to take over the local stations currently operated by Tribune Media. Under Pai, the FCC has already made moves that have allowed certain media companies to grow bigger, and the rules to be discussed at next month's FCC meeting will certainly not be the last. According to senior FCC officials, the agency may take up its cap on national television ownership by the end of the year.

At the FCC, officials say they also expect the changes to be fully litigated but express optimism that the changes will survive court review given the data and comments collected during its quadrennial review of broadcast ownership rules. One Pai subordinate frames the proposal as "modernization for the 21st century" and shrugs off the suggestion that the rules are intended to favor particular companies, saying such criticism amounts to "ad hominem attacks that reflect poorly on them."