In a series of moves this week that have alarmed free speech advocates and critics of media consolidation, the Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) voted to abolish a rule requiring radio and television broadcasters to maintain studios near the communities they serve, and FCC chairman Ajit Pai announced further plans to end certain media ownership rules.
“At a time when broadcast conglomerates like Sinclair are gobbling up new stations and pulling media resources out of marginalized communities, we still need the main studio rule to help connect broadcasters to the local viewers and listeners they’re supposed to serve.”
—Dana Floberg, Free PressThe policy shifts are expected to significantly benefit the right-wing Sinclair Broadcast Group—whose reported close ties to Pai have raised concerns as the federal government reviews Sinclair’s proposed $3.9 billion merger with Tribune Media, which would expand the broadcaster’s reach to 72 percent of the country.
The “main studio rule” was established in 1939 and required that radio and TV broadcasters maintained studios within 25 miles of the communities where they were licensed to transmit signals. When broadcasters could prove that it was in the public’s interest to have studios located outside of that range, they were allowed to apply for exemptions.
While Pai, a Trump appointee, claimed (pdf) that due to technological advancements, the regulation was “no longer needed to enable broadcasters to be responsive to their communities of license,” consumer advocacy group Free Press warned that the FCC’s decision to end the rule will allow broadcasters to homogenize reports instead of serving local communities.
Calling the decision a “massive handout to [Pai’s] friends and political allies at Sinclair,” Free Press policy analyst Dana Floberg warned, it that “will hit low-income families, rural populations, and people of color the hardest.” By eliminating this rule, she added, the FCC “has blasted open a path for conglomerates like Sinclair to move even more resources—including broadcast facilities and staff—away from underserved communities.”
“At a time when broadcast conglomerates like Sinclair are gobbling up new stations and pulling media resources out of marginalized communities,” she said, “we still need the main studio rule to help connect broadcasters to the local viewers and listeners they’re supposed to serve.”
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