End of FCC Rule Likely Prompts Further Local Media Consolidation

Most U.S. media is already controlled by a small number of companies, and these days, that also includes Google and Facebook. The end of this FCC rule will probably follow the trend of hollowing out communities for the profits of large corporations, which has notably been seen elsewhere after trade agreements such as NAFTA and in the wake of the 2008 economic crash.

Federal regulators have voted to eliminate a longstanding rule covering radio and television stations, in a move that could ultimately reshape the nation’s media landscape.

The regulation, which was first adopted almost 80 years ago, requires broadcasters to have a physical studio in or near the areas where they have a license to transmit TV or radio signals. Known as the “main studio rule,” the regulation ensured that residents of a community could have a say in their local broadcast station’s operations.

Tuesday’s vote by the Federal Communications Commission lifts that requirement. With the rise of social media, the agency said, consumers now have other ways to get in touch with their local broadcasters.

“Additionally, technology allows broadcast stations to produce local news even without a nearby studio,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said.

But that same technological capability could prompt large media titans to take over small, local TV and radio stations, turning them into megaphones blasting content developed for a national audience rather than a local one, according to critics.

“At a time when broadcast conglomerates like Sinclair are gobbling up more stations,” the consumer advocacy group Free Press said in a regulatory filing on the matter in July, “the Commission’s proposal would allow these conglomerates to move even more resources away from struggling communities and further centralize broadcasting facilities and staff in wealthier metropolitan areas.”

Sinclair, a right-wing broadcaster, is trying to buy up Tribune Media in a $3.9 billion deal. The consolidation of the media industry has become a political flashpoint amid wider concerns about fake news and the polarization of news consumption. Even some conservatives have opposed the merger, on the grounds that it could limit the number of voices on the airwaves.

John Oliver (among others) has justifiably done episodes on Sinclair that are informative.