Senate Dems call out FCC chair on rolling back media ownership rules

Senate Dems call out FCC chair on rolling back media ownership rules
© Greg Nash

A group of Senate Democrats called out Ajit Pai, the Republican chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, over his effort to deregulate the broadcast industry, accusing him of easing the path for a media takeover from the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group.

Twenty-three Democrats — as well as Independent Sen. Bernie SandersBernie Sanders2020 Democrats spar over socialism ahead of first debate 'Teflon Don' avoids the scorn of the 'family values' GOP — again Don't expect Trump-sized ratings for Democratic debates MORE (Vt.) — led by Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonDemocrats target Florida Hispanics in 2020 Poll: Six Democrats lead Trump in Florida match-ups How Jim Bridenstine recruited an old enemy to advise NASA MORE (D-Fla.) wrote a letter to Pai urging him to hold off on any further changes to media ownership rules until the FCC conducts an analysis of the broadcast market.

“The nation’s media ownership limits have directly contributed to the trust that Americans have placed in their local broadcasters,” the letter reads. “Eliminating these rules and creating massive broadcast conglomerates directly contravenes the will of Congress and the public interest."

The group cited the agency’s move to reinstate a loophole that allows broadcasters to skirt the limit on their national reach. Companies are currently capped at serving 39 percent of the nation’s television audience.

An FCC spokeswoman did not immediately respond when asked for comment.

The Democrats raised the question of whether Pai pushed the rule, known as the UHF discount, in an effort to pave the way for Sinclair to purchase Tribune Media — a deal that is awaiting FCC approval.

“Many find the timing of your media ownership actions troubling and question whether they were taken knowing that they were essential to the business plans of a single company,” the letter reads.

On Monday, the Senate will vote on whether to confirm Pai to another term, and Democrats are trying to put up a fight by making the vote a referendum on his deregulatory agenda. However, Pai is supported by most Republicans and needs just 51 votes to be cleared by the Senate.