Washington Senators challenge FCC again
Washington’s Democratic U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray are continuing to challenge the Federal Communications Commission, and by proxy Sinclair Broadcasting. This time they joined 20 other Senators, including Oregon’s Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, to send a letter to FCC Chair Ajit Pai.
“Your ad hoc approach to media ownership must end,” the letter opens.
The group asks Pai to put all media ownership decisions on hold until the commission reviews the national broadcast landscape and allow the federal courts to make a ruling on prior media sales.
“Failure to do so threatens the heart of localism, diversity and competitive fairness in local broadcasting,” the letter said.
The U.S. Court of Appeals is deliberating on a rule change made in April 2017 that reinstated the UHF discount which allows some broadcast stations to count just half of their audience circumventing a cap that prevents stations from owning more than 39 percent of television stations in the U.S.
The core of the issue of course is the proposed $3.9 billion purchase of Tribune Media by Sinclair Broadcast Group. The merger would give Sinclair coverage of about 72 percent of the county. Sinclair plans for the deal to close before July as long as the FCC approves of the merger.
Sinclair has been in the news lately for its controversial “must air” segments on its stations and its pro-Trump bias. Most recently the group has been criticized for asking its anchors to read the same statement calling out “fake” news stories.
“The FCC’s limits on broadcast ownership have a long history, both in statute and in the FCC’s rules, and have enjoyed bipartisan support. Those rules are based upon the bedrock principles of localism and diversity, and they also create a level playing field among broadcast companies,” the letter continues.