FCC Decimation of Public-Interest Media Regulation Reaches Fever Pitch

Last month the Federal Communications Commission voted to remove the requirement that radio and television broadcasters have an actual physical presence in the communities to which they are licensed, opening the door to more station consolidation, automation, and syndication.

This month, the agency went on quite a tear: it repealed regulations that prohibit a single company from owning the major radio/TV stations and newspaper in a single market. This comes on the heels of the reinstatement of a regulation that encourages the merger of Sinclair and Tribune Broadcasting to proceed.

Furthermore, the Commission sowed the seeds for the eventual collapse of a program designed to subsidize broadband access for the poorest among us. And it endorsed the adoption of a new digital TV broadcast standard which will allow stations to customize programming to individual viewers, a la your Facebook feed. It will also require you to buy a new TV or conversion-box, similar to what was required during television’s initial analog/digital transition. (Incidentally, one of the strongest proponents of and investors in this new technology is Sinclair.)

Next month, as an extra-special Christmas present to the public interest, the Commission will vote to repeal the regulations that preserve network neutrality, and has opened the door to doing away with rules that require the cable industry to report yearly on industry competition and pricing trends. Read More

Stations Without Studios

The Federal Communications Commission has voted along party lines to repeal the main studio rule, which required all broadcast and television stations to have a physical presence in the communities to which they are licensed. This will only serve to heighten trends of consolidation, automation, and syndication that have afflicted the broadcast industry since the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Even in current practice, the main studio rule was not that robust. Pre-’96, when meaningful caps on broadcast ownership existed, most stations save those who were clustered (that would be four at max for radio) had their own studios, offices, and transmission facilities. In a very important sense, this meant that there was more physical redundancy to the broadcast infrastructure in any given community.

Since 1996, most station-clusters don’t even have separate studios for every station; some stations are literally nothing more than computers tucked away, maintained and updated remotely, that feed their programming to a tower that nobody in the building knows quite where it’s located. Were you to visit a radio station today, you’d most likely find a receptionist, a manager or program director, some sales staff (though these positions are often combined), and perhaps a handful of talent with duties spread across multiple radio outlets. Read More

Ajit Pai’s Forked Tongue on Media Freedom

His boss has repeatedly asserted that journalists are the “enemy of the people,” but when FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was asked directly at a Senate hearing earlier this month whether he agreed, he skillfully talked around it. Claiming reluctance to “wade into the larger political debates,” Pai commented that he believed “that every American enjoys the First Amendment protections guaranteed by the Constitution.”

After the hearing, 13 Senate Democrats sent Pai a letter asking for more detail on his commitment to press freedom, and his response was perfunctory – though he did assert that he thought Trump was talking about “fake news” being the enemy, not legitimate journalism.

Unfortuantely, Pai’s past actions as a lowly Commissioner completely contradict these claims. There are two cases that make this plain. Read More

A Trump FCC and Pirate Radio: Prepare for Struggle

The United States is still trying to come to grips that it has elected a proto-fascist as its next chief executive. With the Republican Party in firm control of the legislature and the ability to shape the judiciary for the next several decades, lobbyists of all stripes are drooling at the prospects of a bona-fide kleptocracy.

Of all the things expected to be decimated in the Trump era, media and communications policy are among them. Others have already written about the potential for a GOP-run Trump FCC to undo several years’ worth of media reform efforts, such as network neutrality, media ownership limits, and many other things. We still don’t know who Trump may nominate to chair the Commission, though there’s talk that one of the two sitting GOP Commissioners may get the nod.

Neither will be good: Ajit Pai is a trenchant disciple of neoliberal economic theory, and pretty much sees all regulation as bad regulation; Mike O’Rielly, who helped write the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (though tellingly does not crow about it), is pretty much the same. But O’Rielly’s crusade to eliminate unlicensed broadcasting from the nation’s airwaves has gotten a significant boost with this election. Read More

In the Wake of Prometheus, Media Ownership Still Sucks

The following is a guest commentary by friend and colleague Dr. Christopher Terry, a Lecturer of Media Law and Policy in the Department of Journalism, Advertising and Media Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He spent more than 15 years as a producer in commercial radio. His dissertation examined more than 1000 FCC media ownership decisions between 1996-2010, and he has published quite a bit on media diversity, political advertising and of course, media ownership policy. Contact him via e-mail or Twitter

Today marks four years have since the 3rd Circuit handed down a second remand of the FCC’s media ownership policy in Prometheus Radio Project v. FCC. I thought we might take the opportunity of this anniversary to discuss how radio got so bad.

On February 8th, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed into the law the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Provisions within the Telecommunications Act implemented significant changes the legal, policy and social dynamics of media ownership. Although these changes could be felt across the media spectrum, the radio industry was fundamentally changed by the FCC’s implementation of the legislation. Read More