FCC Claims Perfectly-Timed Regulatory Handout To Sinclair Is Just Quirky Happenstance

from the total-coincidink dept

The FCC remains under heavy fire for its mindless assault on popular net neutrality protections. But the agency has also been facing widespread, bipartisan criticism for the FCC's decision to gut decades-old media consolidation rules -- specifically to help Sinclair Broadcast Group cement its $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune.

Like net neutrality, media consolidation rules traditionally enjoy bipartisan support because they protect local opinion diversity and speech, preventing one company from dominating smaller competitors. The Washington Post recently offered a piece highlighting the very real, negative impact mindless M&A mania in the broadcast sector has had on the quality and diversity of local news, which in many towns is now little more than an echo chamber of substandard drivel:

"The TV news has a familiar feel to it here in west-central Pennsylvania. News stories broadcast on WJAC, the NBC affiliate in town, have appeared on nearby station WATM, the ABC affiliate. And many of those stories are broadcast on WWCP, the Fox station here, as well. Not just the same topics — identical stories, reported by the same reporter or anchor, and repeated, almost verbatim at times, by the other stations."

The Sinclair merger will give the company ownership of more than 230 local broadcast stations, reaching 73% of the public. Given Sinclair's history of reporting that's factually-dubious on a good day, those concerns are looming larger than ever as the recent viral Deadspin video made abundantly clear:

As Sinclair moved to gain regulatory approval for its latest deal, the FCC quickly moved to block any and all regulatory obstacles. Like eliminating a "main studio rule" requiring that a broadcaster actually have a physical local presence in a city it operates in to help ensure a vested interest in local issues. And when the Sinclair merger began to bump up against a longstanding media rule preventing any one local broadcaster from reaching more than 39% of households, the FCC quickly restored a discarded regulatory loophole known as the UHF discount, letting Sinclair falsely under-state its real household reach to slink in under the cap.

The FCC's regulatory attack on media ownership rules to aid Sinclair was so blatant, it resulted in the FCC inspector general launching an investigation into whether FCC boss Ajit Pai corruptly coordinated the assault with Sinclair executives. There's really no doubt among Pai's fellow Commissioners like Jessica Rosenworcel, who made her thoughts on the matter perfectly clear recently:

"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."

Amusingly, FCC Commissioner Mike O'Rielly (fresh off of a recent Hatch Act violation) recently tried to fire back with a blog post claiming that nearly a dozen perfectly-timed initiatives that help Sinclair were all entirely coincidental, and were simply part of the FCC's attempt to eliminate "outdated regulations":

"Any benefit to Sinclair was residual and non-intentional. At the same time, the entire debate misses the bigger picture that I witnessed firsthand in Arizona this week: that the changing marketplace is causing tremendous challenges to legacy broadcasters forced to abide by outdated and irrelevant ownership limitations and Commission rules. My priority has been to remove these outdated burdens imposed by the Commission that no longer serve the public interest or make sense, so that broadcasters are able to survive and thrive in the current competitive landscape. "

Like net neutrality, FCC evidence of the "burden" these longstanding rules create for broadcasters is utterly absent. And the only thing the 39% ownership cap was a burden to was Sinclair and its merger. That the elimination of this rule might also help a few lumbering giants grow impossibly larger isn't really much of a defense, and critics find the timing just too perfect for O'Rielly's claims to be even remotely believable:

“Everything that Sinclair needed to get done seemed to happen exactly when they needed it to get done,” David Goldman, chief counsel for communications issues for the House Energy & Commerce Committee told Motherboard in a phone interview...

"O'Rielly can say this is all just part of the current majority’s plan to deregulate everything under the sun, without regard for who benefits the most, but that's missing the point,” argeed Matt Wood, Policy Director for Free Press, one of the organizations fighting the merger. "Sinclair couldn't even contemplate its massive takeover of Tribune without this relief, which the Commission has been exceptionally eager to grant from day one of Pai's Chairmanship,” Wood said.

Pai's office is rushing ahead undaunted, last week opening the merger back up to public comment in the hopes of nudging things along. The FCC is rushing, in part, because of the fact that consumer groups are challenging the restoration of the UHF Discount in court, arguing that there was no other reason to restore the obscure and unnecessary loophole aside from helping Sinclair. Again, the FCC's decision to barrel forth before the court case is settled didn't sit well with Rosenworcel:

Does it? We'll see. Should consumer advocates win that suit, Sinclair's merger (at least as written) will be DOA, and the FCC will be left trying to find other "entirely coincidental" ways to try and rubber stamp the broadcasting giant's M&A ambitions.


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  • identicon
    MathFox, 31 May 2018 @ 4:04am

    Another hit for democracy

    "The press" is the vehicle to inform the voters about the actions of their representatives. A biassed press is a propaganda vehicle for special interests and when I see prejudiced rich men buy up independent news organizations it worries me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2018 @ 4:17am

      Re: Another hit for democracy

      Including George Soros?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        MathFox, 31 May 2018 @ 4:25am

        Re: Re: Another hit for democracy

        I like to hear both the positive and the negative and form my own opinion. Give me diversity in reporting.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2018 @ 4:51am

          Re: Re: Re: Another hit for democracy

          And where do you think you get that? Just because they present a little bit of the "other side" doesn't mean you're getting diversity in reporting.

          So many softball interviews of dictators and tyrants (mostly socialists), and very hardball interviews of anyone with opposing political views (if they even give them a chance at all).

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2018 @ 7:38am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Another hit for democracy

            Oh - so it is ok then that the rules be changed just for this one corporation ... You know, because it doesn't make a difference anyway.

            I do not think we need another GOPTV.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 1 Jun 2018 @ 8:39am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Another hit for democracy

            "interviews of dictators and tyrants (mostly socialists)"

            Hold on a sec ... do you have an example or two of these strange creatures known as Socialist Dictator and Socialist Tyrant?

            I was of the opinion that such things were mutually exclusive but in todays world of total bullshit I imagine that such silliness could prevail.

            Perhaps you do not understand the political spectrum and where these labels reside.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          David, 31 May 2018 @ 4:55am

          Re: Re: Re: Another hit for democracy

          Giving sanity and insanity equal weight is "diversity in reporting" but it doesn't particularly help dealing adequately with issues since it just adjucates necessary decisions.

          "There are good sides and bad sides to extraterritorial torture and death camps where U.S. government employees actually spit on and burn the U.S. constitution much more thoroughly and terminally than they do to Quran copies" may be "diversity in reporting" but it doesn't exactly lend itself to the necessary opinion and decision formation.

          At some point of time, taking a stand is called for. And not merely taking a stand for the good while simultaneously taking a balanced and equal stand for the intolerably awful.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2018 @ 5:28am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Another hit for democracy

            Can you say non sequitur?

            Or, perhaps I only have to claim a viewpoint, such as yours, is insanity to have it discounted completely. I forget the rules, is it "first one to claim the other side is insane wins?"

            Forget actual integrity in journalism, with real investigations and balance. Let's just allow all the big money tyrants on both sides to mount their propaganda machines and blast us with crap.

            Journalism and our "free press" will be the big loser in the long run because we won't be able to trust anything they tell us...

            ...Perhaps that's exactly what the tyrants want to happen.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2018 @ 7:40am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Another hit for democracy

              Not sure what your point is - other than just adding to what the other post had to say.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              phlypp (profile), 1 Jun 2018 @ 7:28pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Another hit for democracy

              "Journalism and our "free press" will be the big loser in the long run because we won't be able to trust anything they tell us..."

              Exactly. That's why 'Fake News' became a thing in the last two years, so no one will know who to trust. Except those with eyes wide open who use facts instead of alternate facts. Who does obscuring and confusing the truth benefit? Only the corrupt!

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          phlypp (profile), 1 Jun 2018 @ 7:24pm

          Re: Re: Re: Another hit for democracy

          So the robbers were caught with their weapons and the bank's money. The masks used in the robbery were in their possession. But lets have another viewpoint before making any conclusions. It doesn't get much clearer than this.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2018 @ 8:49am

        Re: Re: Another hit for democracy

        Oh no, the scary bogeyman George Soros.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        phlypp, 1 Jun 2018 @ 7:13pm

        Re: Re: Another hit for democracy

        George Soros is nothing but a distraction and obfuscation, as you know with your distractions and obfuscations. It's very simple to determine who benefits and who doesn't. The Republican Party gets another party organ to spread their propaganda. Sinclair gets the opportunity to make even more $Billions. George Soros receives no benefit whatsoever.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        phlypp (profile), 1 Jun 2018 @ 7:22pm

        Re: Re: Another hit for democracy

        Please, you're embarrassing yourself. It's easy to see who benefits and who doesn't, regardless of the distractions and obfuscations put up by trolls. The GOP gets an expanded party organ to spread their propaganda. Sinclair gets more $Billions. George Soros obtains no benefits either way.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Vidiot (profile), 31 May 2018 @ 7:55am

    "...causing tremendous challenges to legacy broadcasters..."

    Ironically, technology advances have lowered the cost of broadcast hardware by orders of magnitude; a $50,000 camera of 15 years ago is easily replaced, at higher quality, with a $5,000 camera today. And idiot-proofed, automated applications mean a small, community-based station can be run with a fraction of the staff... and capital... previously required.

    Of course, the same economies that democratize hyperlocal broadcasting are the ones which turn multiple station ownership into a modern-day gold rush; a single regional playout server sends identical, pre-recorded programming to ten markets as cheaply as one.

    This is mostly about the (imagined) right to generate massive revenues by shedding those old-fashioned notions of benefiting the community.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2018 @ 8:21am

    A great read to go along with this, the recent Rolling Stone article on Sinclair:

    https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/sinclair-broadcast-group-hostile-takeover-tru mp-w519331

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2018 @ 10:33am

    Think I'll start calling them Sin-Clear.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2018 @ 4:18pm

    I somehow get the feeling that when Pai leaves the FCC he's going to get a golden parachute straight into high end job with Sinclair. This is just laying the ground work ahead of time for him.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 31 May 2018 @ 8:03pm

      Re:

      Sinclair, AT&T, Verizon, Comcast... with his gushing support of anything and everything certain companies do and/or want to do he's got plenty of options, the only question is who will end up employing him officially after he leaves the FCC.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    NaBUru38 (profile), 3 Jun 2018 @ 6:28pm

    Who on earth supports monopoly of local news, except the monopolists themselves?

    Each station should be owned by town residents. And each company should own a single channel.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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