FCC Rule Rollback Makes It Easier To Buy And Sell Media Outlets
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Speaking of corporations, major media companies have gotten some good news. On Thursday, the FCC voted to roll back decades-old rules that will make it easier for media outlets to be bought and sold. Media conglomerates can now own both newspapers and TV stations in a single market. The change also makes it easier for companies to own more TV stations in those markets, like Sinclair Broadcast Group which could soon merge with Tribune Media, something critics say could lead to a conservative media consolidation across the U.S.
to talk about this, we are joined by Lewis Friedland, who directs the Center for Communication and Democracy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Welcome.
LEWIS FRIEDLAND: Thank you.
MCEVERS: These rules have been on the books, you know, since the mid-'70s. Quickly just explain why they were there in the first place.
FRIEDLAND: Well, they were there in the first place to prevent one company from monopolizing the flow of news in any given market. The FCC, going all the way back to the 1934 rules, has placed an emphasis on localism, that local communities should get their news from local sources. And that was what this media consolidation rule was designed to encourage.
MCEVERS: So why are these rules being thrown out now?
FRIEDLAND: The short answer might be that the new commissioner of the FCC, Ajit Pai, has decided that the old media consolidation limits no longer apply to Sinclair or other broadcast companies. And so they need to be able to own as many outlets in a given market as they can afford.
MCEVERS: Let's say I live in Petersburg, Ill., and every night I sit down and watch my news on my local channel. How will things be different now?
FRIEDLAND: Well, Kelly, Petersburg is a small town outside of Springfield, Ill., which is its primary media market. And Sinclair actually does own channel 20. Right now channel 20 receives nightly must-runs from Sinclair Broadcasting out of Baltimore. Much of that is conservative commentary. But that's one station among, right now, three major news stations in that market. But if these new rules pass, for example, Sinclair could buy the local newspaper, the Illinois Journal-Register. Then Sinclair would have a dominant position to control the flow of news in that market.
MCEVERS: What other companies could benefit from these new rules?
FRIEDLAND: Well, essentially any large media company could benefit from these new rules. In fact Fox News is very well-positioned to benefit from these new rules 'cause it does own newspapers in some major cities. And it in the past has been slowed down from owning major television outlets because of these rules.
MCEVERS: I mean, the FCC says that this move will inject new life into struggling local journalism. Is there any evidence that that's worked in the past?
FRIEDLAND: No, there's zero evidence that that's worked in the past. Wherever there's been consolidation, there have been layoffs of local journalists. Sometimes newscasts have expanded, but usually those expansions take place by hiring another producer. So you're adding newscasts, but you're not adding reporters on the the streets. So you're not actually adding local news. The thing is that most Americans get their news from local television news. That's the single most powerful source of news for most Americans. So if you want to control how Americans think about the world, local news is the best medium to do that.
MCEVERS: Lewis Friedland of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, thank you.
FRIEDLAND: Thank you very much.
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