DOJ Pushes for Tougher TV Ownership Rules

The department urges the FCC to crack down on TV cost-sharing deals.

Members of the cast of NBC's 30 Rock.
National Journal
Brendan Sasso
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Brendan Sasso
Feb. 21, 2014, 11:57 a.m.

The Justice De­part­ment is call­ing for tough­er fed­er­al rules to lim­it the abil­ity of TV sta­tions to co­ordin­ate with each oth­er.

The de­part­ment’s An­ti­trust Di­vi­sion filed a re­port Fri­day with the Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion, ur­ging the agency to crack down on ar­range­ments that loc­al TV sta­tions use to share costs. The di­vi­sion warned that those ar­range­ments are un­der­min­ing the FCC’s me­dia-own­er­ship re­stric­tions, which are in­ten­ded to pro­mote di­verse views in the me­dia.

The di­vi­sion cri­ti­cized “joint sales agree­ments,” which al­low TV sta­tions to sell ads for each oth­er, and “joint ser­vices agree­ments,” in which TV sta­tions share re­sources, such as news heli­copters or staff. The Justice De­part­ment warned that the deals al­low one TV com­pany to ex­ert “in­flu­ence or con­trol” over com­pet­it­ors.

The de­part­ment re­com­men­ded that the FCC bar the joint sales deals if cur­rent rules would pro­hib­it the sta­tions from mer­ging. The de­part­ment said the FCC should eval­u­ate the ser­vice-shar­ing deals on a case-by-case basis.

The re­port is a boost to FCC Chair­man Tom Wheel­er, who is ex­pec­ted to push an or­der next month that would closely track those re­com­mend­a­tions.

But he will likely have to over­ride Re­pub­lic­an op­pos­i­tion. Both Ajit Pai and Mi­chael O’Ri­elly, the two Re­pub­lic­ans on the five-mem­ber com­mis­sion, have signaled that they would op­pose tough­er TV own­er­ship rules.

Den­nis Whar­ton, a spokes­man for the Na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of Broad­casters, said he “strongly dis­agrees” with the DOJ re­port, which he warned could “kill jobs and dam­age the eco­nom­ics of loc­al broad­cast­ing.”

“Joint sales agree­ments al­low loc­al TV sta­tions that might oth­er­wise go out of busi­ness to in­crease loc­al news and com­munity ser­vice, and to provide ro­bust com­pet­i­tion to pay TV gi­ants,” he said. “In an era when $200 monthly bills from con­sol­id­ated broad­band and cable com­pan­ies are be­com­ing the norm, it’s im­port­ant to re­mem­ber that heav­ily reg­u­lated loc­al TV sta­tions re­main free of charge to every Amer­ic­an.”

The FCC is re­quired to re­view its me­dia own­er­ship rules every four years, but it nev­er com­pleted its 2010 study, which is now be­ing com­bined with the 2014 re­view.

Wheel­er will cir­cu­late the new own­er­ship rules among the FCC com­mis­sion­ers as soon as next week for a vote at the March 19 meet­ing, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials. The com­mis­sion is also ex­pec­ted to seek pub­lic com­ments on its rules re­strict­ing the abil­ity of a single com­pany to own a broad­cast sta­tion and news­pa­per in a single mar­ket.

What We're Following See More »
Jon Huntsman in Line to be #2 at State
24 minutes ago
Ellison Bringing New DNC Chair Perez To Trump’s Address
29 minutes ago
DOJ Drops Claim Against Texas’s Voter ID Law
59 minutes ago

The Department of Justice "is dropping a discrimination claim against a Texas law that required voters to present identification at the polls." The case will continue to carry on with private groups who filed the lawsuit. The DOJ dropped the claim because Texas is planning to "cure the deficiencies" with the law, according to a draft copy of the dismissal motion the DOJ sent to the Campaign Legal Center. Texas Governor Jim Abbott tweeted a picture of a headline sharing the information with a caption saying "It's a new day in D.C."

Durbin Says Government Shutdown Possible
2 hours ago
Jewish Community Keeps Receiving Threats
2 hours ago

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.