Federal Communications Commission chief Ajit Pai has rejected a request from Capitol Hill that he not implement several media ownership rule changes adopted in Nov. 2017. Among the revisions approved by the Commission last fall was the elimination of the newspaper-broadcast and radio-television cross-ownership rules.
According to InsideRadio, the agency also embraced a presumptive waiver approach to embedded markets, making it more likely proposed deals would be cleared.
Those changes, as well as more significant revisions to television ownership rules, had drawn fire from Congress where a group of 23 Senate Democrats accused Pai of having a “dismissive approach” to the need for media ownership limits. “At a minimum, the FCC should not take any further action to relax the media ownership rules until it has completed another full quadrennial media ownership review,” they wrote in a letter to Pai. “In fact, this is why Congress created the quadrennial media ownership review—to ensure that any changes to the media ownership rules are based on a fulsome review of the current broadcast landscape,” they added.
Seven months later, Pai has responded to the Senators, defending the changes adopted by the Commission in what was a party-line 3-2 vote. He said they were “appropriate and balanced reforms” to the broadcast ownership rules. Pai also criticized the earlier order adopted during the final months of the Obama administration for failing to adjust the rules to “match the modern media marketplace.”
In a letter to Capitol Hill, Pai goes on to “respectfully decline” the lawmakers’ request that the FCC not implement any of the changes. “The FCC has a statutory duty to ensure that our broadcast ownership rules keep up with changes in the media marketplace, and there is no reason to further delay the implementation of 2017 reforms that were themselves unreasonably delayed,” he wrote.
No large radio deal hangs in the balance at the FCC but rather it is Sinclair Broadcast Group’s proposed $3.9 billion deal to buy Tribune Media that colors all media ownership conversations at the moment. It would give Sinclair the largest local TV group in the country. To win regulatory approval, Sinclair announced last month it would sell 23 television stations in 18 markets to six different buyers. That’s seven additional markets than had been earlier targeted for spin-off.
With that plan now in hand, the FCC last month announced it would open a new comment period on the proposed sale. The initial comment period runs until June 20. Reply comments are due by July 12.