FCC Commissioner Says Her Agency Is Now Just A Giant Rubber Stamp For Sinclair Broadcasting
from the ill-communication dept
If you’ve been napping, the Ajit Pai run FCC has been busy gutting decades-old media consolidation rules just to grease the skids for Sinclair’s planned $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune. The deal, if completed, would give Sinclair ownership of 230 broadcast stations, reaching 72% of the public with what’s generally considered facts-optional “news” on a good day. Consumer advocates and media watchdogs have been warning about the negative impact such media consolidation has on competition and local reporting for decades, largely to yawns and eye rubs from many in the tech sector.
The importance of limits on media consolidation have seen renewed attention as the United States tries to get a hold of its previously-ignored disinformation problem(s). Last week Deadspin published a video highlighting how Sinclair forces its reporters to parrot factually-dubious commentary in a relatively creepy fashion, much of it blasting any critical reporting on the Trump administration as “fake news”:
It’s worth noting that opposition to Sinclair’s deal is bipartisan in nature. Democrats oppose the deal because it would extend the reach of a “news” organization that has repeatedly been caught parroting Trump disinformation and misleading its audience. But many Conservatives oppose the merger as well, rightly worried that a larger Sinclair could have a stifling impact on smaller news organizations. And many Sinclair employees say they’re frustrated by the company’s policies as well, but note that noncompete and other contract language makes quitting financially untenable:
“After Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. drew widespread criticism for having anchors read a statement taking aim at the integrity of other U.S. media outlets, many wondered why some of the company?s journalists didn?t just quit.
The short answer is the cost may be too steep. According to copies of two employment contracts reviewed by Bloomberg, some Sinclair employees were subject to a liquidated damages clause for leaving before the term of their agreement was up: one that requires they pay as much as 40 percent of their annual compensation to the company.”
While Deadspin’s video brought some welcome attention to our mindless media consolidation problem and the impact it has on quality local reporting, most of the analysis didn’t even tell the full story. For example, few bothered to point out that FCC boss Ajit Pai is already facing a bipartisan investigation by the FCC’s own Inspector General for potential corruption in his dealings with Sinclair. And many overlooked this recent lamentation by Pai’s fellow Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel on how Pai’s FCC is little more than a glorified rubber stamp for the alternative-fact broadcaster:
“Every element of our media policy is custom-built for the business plan of Sinclair Broadcasting,? says Rosenworcel. ?That is stunning, it is striking, and it looks like something?s wrong. And I?m not the only one to think that. We?re burning down the values of media policy in this agency in order to service this company.”
“Looks like?” Of course none of this is entirely new, and pushing through unpopular megamergers without seriously weighing the negative impact on markets or the public welfare is a time-honored, bipartisan tradition. Much like the man who appointed him, Pai’s just taking existing, long-standing dysfunction, corruption and revolving-door regulation to an entirely new level. And if Pai’s response to the massive net neutrality backlash is any indication, he’s too intellectually and ideologically cocksure to seriously weigh legitimate bipartisan criticism (or the facts) ahead of the Sinclair merger vote later this year.
Being an unelected bureaucrat there’s not much to do about Pai outside of voting out his employer, but hopefully his mindless defense of broadband, media, and even prison phone monopolies at least serves an education function for those with the tendency to ignore a decade of warnings about the downsides of mindless M&A mania.