Advocacy groups ask federal court to block FCC media ownership rule

Advocacy groups ask federal court to block FCC media ownership rule
© Greg Nash

A coalition of public interest groups asked a federal court on Friday to block a recent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule from going into effect that would give major broadcasters more room to buy up local television stations.

The groups, led by the advocacy organization Free Press, asked the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse the FCC's push to reinstate the rule, known as the UHF discount.

The rule, which the commission voted in April to bring back, counts stations broadcasting on ultra-high frequency at a discounted rate towards the national media ownership limit. Broadcasters are currently capped at serving 39 percent of the nation’s households.

The FCC, led by Republican Chairman Ajit Pai, voted last month to reinstate the discount less than a year after the FCC during the past administration repealed it. Pai argued that the agency should not get rid of the discount without also reviewing the ownership cap.

On Thursday, the coalition also petitioned the FCC to delay reinstating the discount until a court has a chance to review it.

“Reinstatement of the UHF discount opens the door for rapid and massive consolidation despite a congressional directive that there should be a limit on the scope of national ownership,” the groups argued.

A spokesman for the FCC declined to comment.

Free Press was joined in the filings by Common Cause, Media Alliance, Media Mobilizing Project, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, Prometheus Radio Project and the United Church of Christ Office of Communication.

Activists worry that the discount will lead to local stations being consolidated by large broadcasters like Sinclair, which announced earlier this week that it reached a deal to buy Tribune Media Company and its network of local channels.

Groups like Free Press have accused the FCC of engaging in a quid pro quo arrangement with Sinclair.

“Sinclair has worked hard to curry favor with the Trump administration and Chairman Pai, all to gain the power to push these kinds of deals through,” said Free Press policy director Matt Wood.

“Buying Tribune and other broadcasters would give Sinclair access to more than 70 percent of the people in America, and would let this broadcast conglomerate fire local journalists and drown local viewers under a flood of cookie-cutter news and right-wing propaganda.”