Responding to the Oligopolistic Desires of Local Media Owners

As promised on the radio show, I now have posted the comments that Nexstar and Sinclair filed with the FCC on the media ownership review docket. Both companies own TV stations in the Champaign-Decatur-Springfield, IL DMA (where the ‘geek is located), in addition to owning stations nationwide.

Nexstar owns Champaign CBS affiliate WCIA Ch. 3 and Springfield UPN affiliate WCFN. Sinclair owns Champaign NBC affiliate WICD ch. 15 and Springfield NBC affiliate WICS ch. 20. Sinclair is the bigger company that owns and operates, programs or provides sales services to 63 television stations in 40 markets, reaching 25% of the national market.

What’s most telling about these companies’ comments is that both encourage the FCC to drop the Newspaper-Television cross-ownership rule and the local-telelvision ownership/duopoloy rule. Here are definitions of these rules, thanks to the Media Access Project:

The “Newspaper-Broadcast Ownership” Rule:
The newspaper broadcast cross ownership rule prohibits a newspaper from owning a broadcast station in the same local area and vice versa. The FCC adopted this rule in 1975. The Supreme Court upheld the rule against constitutional attack in a case called NCCB v. FCC.. At the time the FCC adopted the rule, it allowed many existing newspaper-broadcast combinations to keep their combinations. Many of these “grandfathered” combinations continue to exist today.

Local Television Ownership Rules:
This rule limits ownership to two television stations in same market only if that market has 8 independent voices, and, one of the two stations is not among the top four stations in that market. Sometimes this rule is referred to as the “duopoly” rule.

(A note about the local TV ownership rule — this rule has been challenged in court, and the DC Court of Appeals specifically questioned the FCC’s “8 independent voices” standard, and ordered the FCC to clarify or revise this metric. Essentially the Court ruled that this metric is too vague and that the FCC has no good basis as to why the number of voices must be 8 — why not 5 or 15?)

The full text of these companies’ comments is in PDF format, which requires a free Acrobat reader (sorry Linux heads — I don’t know of a unix-based reader, and I’m not the one who decided that the FCC should pdf everything.).

Download the comments here:

Sinclair Broadcast Group comments on media ownership rules.

Nextstar Broadcast Group comments on media ownership rules.

See the instructions in the previous posting for filing your reply comments with the FCC. The deadline to file these comments is midnight Feb. 3. Please remember that this comment period is specifically for replies to comments already filed and not to make general comments on the topic of media ownership. While you can certainly sneak in general comments the FCC probably won’t take them seriously.

In making reply comments it’s better to be specific in who you’re responding to and why. Clearly explain what your interest is — for example, you might explain that you watch Ch. 15 news and are concerned about what might happen. Be clear and concise in explaining your position. Comments like “don’t let the corporations take over the media!” or “don’t kill ownership rules” are clear, but don’t help give the FCC a rationale for doing these things. Whether we like it or not the FCC will be called on the carpet to justify it’s decision, and so if they have articulate public comments explaining what the public interest is, the greater the likelihood that they might go your way.

Remember, the media conglomerates have already mobilized to give the FCC all sorts of easy rationales — this is what we’re up against.

Related Stuff:

  • (Sinclair) De-Localizing Local News, 1/21/03
  • The FCC Faces up to the Public @ Columbia Law School, but Which Public? 1/17/03
  • A Few Surprises in the FCC Appearance at the Senate Commerce Committee, 1/15/03

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