TV Stations Sue FCC Over Collusion Policy

The new policy limits coordination between broadcasters.

A customer stands in front of a wall of flat panel televisions at a Best Buy store June 19, 2007 in San Francisco, California.
National Journal
Brendan Sasso
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Brendan Sasso
May 12, 2014, 11:39 a.m.

Tele­vi­sion broad­casters are su­ing to block an at­tempt by the Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion to crack down on me­dia con­sol­id­a­tion.

The law­suit by the Na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of Broad­casters claims that the agency’s new policy is “ar­bit­rary and ca­pri­cious” and an ab­use of power. The suit, filed with the U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the D.C. Cir­cuit, also claims that the FCC failed to fol­low prop­er rule-mak­ing pro­ced­ure. 

Un­der the FCC Me­dia Bur­eau’s policy, which was first is­sued in March, the agency will scru­tin­ize any deals between TV sta­tions that share a single ad­vert­ising staff or oth­er re­sources — such as news heli­copters. Later in the month, the FCC en­acted broad­er rules against “joint sales agree­ments.”   

Demo­crat­ic FCC of­fi­cials ar­gue that ma­jor TV com­pan­ies around the coun­try are col­lud­ing to un­der­mine the agency’s me­dia-own­er­ship caps.

The FCC bars any com­pany from own­ing more than one of the top four TV sta­tions in a mar­ket. By selling ads for mul­tiple sta­tions, com­pan­ies have been able to dodge the FCC’s own­er­ship cap while ef­fect­ively con­trolling sev­er­al sta­tions, ac­cord­ing to FCC Chair­man Tom Wheel­er. 

The goal of the TV own­er­ship cap is to en­sure that view­ers have ac­cess to a di­verse range of views in the me­dia and that no single cor­por­a­tion is able to dom­in­ate the flow of in­form­a­tion.

Re­pub­lic­ans and broad­casters warn that the FCC’s ac­tions will force small TV sta­tions off the air. They ar­gue that shar­ing re­sources helps sta­tions save costs and fo­cus more on cov­er­ing news im­port­ant to their loc­al com­munit­ies.

COR­REC­TION: This post has been up­dated to re­flect that the law­suit is over the Me­dia Bur­eau’s policy guid­ance as op­posed to the new rules on joint sales deals. 

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