Union calls for broadcaster sharing disclosures

A top telecom workers union is calling for the Federal Communications Commission to require radio and TV broadcasters to publicly detail all sharing agreements that they have.

“Disclosure is long overdue, and does not require further consideration,” the Communications Workers of America wrote in their filing on Monday.

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The union said that broadcasters make deals to share the same news programming or give each other operational support “to evade the Commission’s local television ownership rules and its newspaper/broadcast cross-ownerships rules.”

The FCC should expand an order banning broadcasters from selling at least 15 percent of another’s advertisements to those other sharing arrangement, the union said. That would prevent companies from trying to skim profits by getting rid of employees and degrade “the quality and quantity of locally originated news and public affairs programming at the expense of quality journalism.”

The filing comes on the heels of a Government Accountability Office report that said the commission is essentially flying blind on oversight of the sharing deals.

The FCC has no way to measure how many broadcasters make agreements to share programs or services, which “could undermine FCC’s efforts to ensure its media ownership regulations achieve their intended goals,” the GAO declared. 

Broadcasters have argued that the arrangements are necessary to ensure broadcast stations can stay afloat, especially in small and rural areas. 

Even though the data about the sharing deals is incomplete, the union said the effects are nonetheless clear.

Stations from Tucson, Ariz., to Syracuse, N.Y., are combining forces and creating “triopolies,” it maintained, in which one operator controls three stations with identical programming.