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Posts in category: "media concentration"

Pressure to Stop Tribune-Sinclair Merger Bears Fruit

Today Federal Communications Commission Chairman Pai announced that he is proposing to designate for hearing several issues surrounding the Sinclair-Tribune proposed merger. Mr. Pai stated he was doing so because "certain station divestitures that have been proposed to the FCC would allow Sinclair to control those stations in practice, even if not in name, in violation of the law." Commissioner Rosenworcel rapidly signaled her support.

 

Cheryl A. Leanza, UCC OC Inc.'s policy advisor stated, "The Commission's proposed action is appropriate, as UCC's media justice ministry has pointed out from the beginning, because this transaction deserves serious scrutiny. This is good news for anyone who values competition and multiple viewpoints in news and on television."

 

Typically, designating a proposed merger for hearing means the transaction is withdrawn, and UCC OC Inc. hopes the same action follows today's announcement. Leanza noted, "All of the merger's opponents deserve recognition for their steadfast opposition to a merger that was previously believed to be inevitable."

 

Leanza continued, "While we celebrate the likely end to the Sinclair-Tribune transaction, the FCC has taken steps in the last year to invite this kind of abuse of its rules by repealing previous policies that prohibit stations from, as the Chairman said, 'control[ling] stations in practice, even if not in name, in violation of the law.'" In particular, under Chairman Pai, the FCC adopted two decisions that treat stations as independent from each other even if they jointly sell advertising time or jointly produce news (to name two examples). The FCC should quickly stop allowing companies to end-run around its rules as Sinclair proposed to do. And Congress should follow suit, by ending its requirement that the FC grandfather existing combinations of this type until 2025.

 

UCC OC Inc. filings against Sinclair:

Petition to Deny (August 8, 2017)

Petition to Deny (filed June 20, 2018)

Letter supporting delay in Sinclair transaction (filed July 9, 2018)

Reply to Sinclair Tribune (filed July 12, 2018)


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Categories: media concentration

Worried about Monolithic Local Media? Support the United Church of Christ's media justice ministry

Worried about Monolithic Local Media? The UCC's media justice ministry is with you -- support us!
Right now we're: in court in 2 places to stop FCC rules enabling Sinclair's consolidation, working with civil rights allies at the FCC to increase media diversity, and writing informative blog posts to keep you up to speed. Read all about it and help keep us going!
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By now you've surely heard about or seen the chilling video of local TV anchors at Sinclair Broadcasting stations around the country mouthing identical words that echo President Trump's attacks on the media. This video, while shocking, is only the tip of the iceberg. You may have just heard about Sinclair's most recent efforts, but at the UCC's media justice ministry, we've been tracking--and fighting against--policies which undermine media diversity and local journalism for years. Sinclair is well known for its ultra conservative news coverage, softball questions for the Trump administration, requiring all of its local affiliates to run opinion pieces from former Trump White House official Boris Epshteyn, and racist assumptions about American Muslims and terrorism (highlighted by HBO’s John Oliver).  And much of Sinclair Broadcasting's efforts would not be permitted if the Federal Communications Commission sustained, and enforced, its media ownership rules. Right now the FCC is reviewing Sinclair's proposed acquisition of Tribune Broadcasting, thus increasing this company's reach to 72 percent of the nation's audience -- far bigger than any other local TV broadcaster.

The United Church of Christ's media justice ministry has been working on media diversity, speaking truth to power, since 1959, when inspired by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Rev. Everett C. Parker led the way in holding local television broadcasters to account for failing to serve their African-American viewers. This ministry, called OC Inc., has been working to support media diversity and locally accountable broadcast journalism for decades.

Right now UCC OC Inc. is:

 

Please sign up for our newsletters so we can keep you informed, and make a donation support our work! With donations like yours, we'll be continuing this ministry to make sure media serves all people.

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Categories: media concentration

FCC's Shameful Assault on Access to Information, Implications Widespread

The following can be attributed to Cheryl A. Leanza, policy advisor to the United Church of Christ’s media justice ministry, OC Inc., in response to several votes today at the Federal Communications Commission:

In today’s string of votes, we see Federal Communications Commission Chairman Pai agenda unleashed on the United States.  He coyly waited until after his Senate confirmation vote and the most recent Congressional oversight hearing to unleash an unprecedented attack on civil rights and access to information.  The most vulnerable are feeling the most harmful impact.  Tribes, the most in need of affordable accessible communications, will see their subsidies immediately cut and their lands redefined without intergovernmental consultation.  Low income people must anticipate damaging changes as the Commission plans to cut off almost 70 percent of its subscribers and then proposes to add insult to injury with more draconian cuts in the form of a budget cap, lifetime limits on benefits, and more.

Today’s media ownership vote will take effect immediately:  it is not a proposal.  The ruling cuts back and eliminates rules that have been in place since the beginning of broadcast regulation.  We are losing rules that were designed to protect economic competition as well as competition in the marketplace of ideas.  No one looking at today’s media environment could imagine that the FCC, today, would see a media environment in need of fewer fact-checked news stories, fewer journalists, and reduced numbers of independent locally accountable news outlets--but that is what we will get.

This vote puts the final nail in the coffin for ownership diversity at the FCC.  This year’s Trump FCC fully exploits the failings in last year’s vote, which ignored the record in an effort to hide the connection between ownership and content.  The incubator proposal is meaningless, particularly in a consolidated media environment like the one we are about to experience.

With these actions, the Trump administration lays groundwork for less access to information and less voter education and engagement, which increases the likelihood that elections can be skewed by unverified news stories intent on confusion and manipulation. The forthcoming vote on net neutrality will further diminish freedom of speech and the marketplace of ideas online.

One rule now stands between the Trump FCC and approval of the Sinclair merger.  Sinclair is poised to fully exploit the rule rollbacks adopted today and waits expectantly for Chairman Pai’s promised revisions to the national TV ownership cap.  Congress set the national TV ownership cap by statute in 2004, but Chairman Pai has promised to change it, evading the statutorily-set limits on FCC power.  After that illegal change, the Sinclair merger will set the state for a new breathtaking wave of consolidation as other media companies rush to catch up.  Congress must ensure the FCC does not evade the limits of its statutory authority.

Rev. Dr. Everett C. Parker, founder of the United Church of Christ's media justice ministry, OC Inc., dedicated his life to accountable and local broadcasting.  I am ashamed that so much of his amazing life's work is being tossed in the trashbin today.

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Trump Federal Communications Commission Keeps Its Dark Promises

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, like Donald Trump who appointed him, intends to keep his promises. His dissents as a minority Commissioner made clear his plans. This month, after squeaking through his confirmation vote in the Senate, he finally brings out the big guns.

He is fulfilling his promise to gut the FCC's program to assist low income people with the costs of telephone service and broadband.He is fulfilling his promise to turn over the media marketplace to a few, huge owners, while offering women and people of color a fig leaf of paper ownership that conveys no equity rights. And he intends to fulfill his promise next month to turn over Internet freedom to the control of a few large corporate ISPs. These are just a few examples of the decisions that will be adopted next month and the month after, some of which will be almost impossible to reverse if he succeeds.

Not only is he keeping his promises, he is again attempting to disguise them with technical terms and doublespeak that, heretofore, could only be found in George Orwell's dystopia. Thus, he attacks low-income households in a docket titled, "Bridging the Digital Divide for Low-Income Consumers," and his decision to ignore the pleas of civil rights leaders is called "Rules and Policies to Promote New Entry and Ownership Diversity in the Broadcasting Services." Could it be the Commission is secretly ashamed of its actions, using these euphemisms to disguise their favors for corporate America at the expense of the rest of the country?

Perhaps he uses these terms because he knows he is undermining the chances that anyone can question his decisions. The steps he is taking will tip the balance even more toward benefits for the privileged, leaving the most impacted behind, favoring fake news against fact-checked journalism. These decisions combined will mean less access to the Internet, less free speech on the Internet and more inflammatory, uniform broadcast content in cities and towns across the country. If he succeeds, as long as the names sound pretty, the dark effects underneath will be ignored.

The agenda released last night make clear that the Ajit Pai threat is terrifying, and it is no innocent Halloween joke. The scars of the Trump Administration continue, and with these decisions it may be that no journalists or activists will retain the tools needed to challenge them.

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Public Interest Groups on Court Ruling Clearing Way for FCC to Erode Rules Allowing Further Media Consolidation

For Immediate Release: June 15, 2017

Contact: Courtney Holsworth, courtney@balestramedia.com, 989.572.8162

 

Public Interest Groups on Court Ruling Clearing Way for FCC to Erode Rules Allowing Further Media Consolidation

 

Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit denied the emergency stay motion filed by public interest groups, including the National Hispanic Media Coalition, Free Press, Common Cause, Media Alliance, and United Church of Christ, OC, Inc., which sought to prevent the Federal Communications Commission from implementing its decision to reinstate the so-called UHF discount. This will allow the FCC to make it easier for the nation’s largest television ownership groups to acquire additional stations, and crowd out diverse and local voices.  The groups are represented by the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University Law Center. Despite this interim ruling, the Court will hear the appeal later this year.

 

The FCC’s April, 2017 decision issued overturned a ruling issued in September, 2016 by an new Commission majority created after two Obama Administration appointees left the Commission. It allows large TV groups to evade a cap on how many stations they own by counting only half of the audience of UHF frequency TV stations towards a Congressionally-established limit of 39% of the nation’s TV homes. This undermines the goals of the Communications Act to promote localism, competition and diversity.

 

In the wake of the FCC’s decision to reinstate the discount, on May 8th Sinclair Broadcast Group announced plans to purchase Tribune Media TV stations for $3.9 billion. The deal would create a broadcast colossus with more than 200 TV stations, and would result in Sinclair reaching more than 70 percent of the national audience with stations in large cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas. However, by reinstating the technically outdated UHF discount, this large deal would mean that Sinclair would be in compliance with the 39% ownership limit.

 

Read more about the case here: http://bit.ly/2qXEz96

 

“The Court of Appeals’ decision to allow the reinstatement of the UHF discount makes it easier for huge ownership groups to take over the media market, at the expense of Latinos, media owners of color and local voices that seek to serve their diverse communities,” said Carmen Scurato, director of policy and legal affairs at the National Hispanic Media Coalition. “The DC Court has cleared the way for massive consolidation, negatively impacting the thousands of owners and consumers that this appeal represented. The FCC has a mandate to act in the public interest yet by reinstating the UHF discount, Chairman Pai has signaled that he is on the side of big media conglomerates that want more control of what we see and hear on the airwaves.”

 

“We're disappointed by the court's decision to deny the stay, but still plan to show the unlawful nature of the FCC's arbitrary and capricious decision under review in this case,” said Gaurav Laroia, Policy Counsel at Free Press. “Chairman Pai's decision to revive this obsolete rule would allow broadcast consolidation far beyond the already high limits set by Congress. And that would grease the skids for companies like Sinclair to cash in, acquiring other media conglomerates like Tribune with the merger those two companies proposed last month. Runaway broadcast consolidation at the national and local level is bad for competition, diversity and localism in broadcasting. Sinclair's practices are a prime example of how consolidation undermines those three principles, with its penchant for dictating coverage to local affiliates and intervening in the editorial decisions of the stations it owns.

 

“Chairman Ajit Pai, President Trump’s appointee at the Federal Communications Commission, is a full partner in the Trump Administration's attack on the press,” said Cheryl Leanza, Policy Advisor at United Church of Christ, OC, Inc. “With his decision to put an obsolete rule back on the books, Chairman Pai will devastated the American public’s access to multiple points of view from hard news sources. We look forward to a positive result when the court reviews the substance of this irrational and dangerous decision.”

 

“The UHF discount has long outlived its usefulness,” said former FCC Commissioner and Common Cause Special Adviser Michael Copps. “Reinstating it was a huge, unwarranted gift to Big Broadcast. So it is disappointing that the court did not rein in the broadcast-friendly majority at the FCC. We remain committed to halting the wave of media consolidation the FCC majority has sought to unleash.”

 

“The petitioners in this case regret the abrupt reinstatement of the admittedly obsolete UHF discount rule to aid a single corporation. Rushing through yet more media consolidation in a hasty and ill-considered manner is no favor to the public's increasing frustration with the media,” stated Tracy Rosenberg, Executive Director at Media Alliance.

 

“This case is far from over,” said Professor Angela J. Campbell, Director of the Communications and Technology Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Public Representation. “Most stay motions are denied. The Court’s unwillingness to grant our motion doesn’t change the fact that we have strong legal arguments against Chairman Pai’s unseemly rush to allow the nation’s largest broadcasters to become even larger.”

 

The stay motion and the reply to the oppositions to the stay motion can be viewed here and here.

 

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Categories: media concentration



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