FCC to vote on rolling back media ownership rules

FCC to vote on rolling back media ownership rules
© Greg Nash

The FCC will be voting to roll back prohibitions against common ownership of a newspaper and broadcast station in the same area, the chairman said Wednesday.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai made the revelation during an oversight hearing before a House Commerce subcommittee. The chairman has been dogged by Democratic attacks over his response to President Trump’s threats against critical media outlets, and on Wednesday he painted the move as part of his commitment to the First Amendment.

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“If you believe as I do that the federal government has no business intervening in the news, then we must stop the federal government from intervening in the news business,” Pai said.

Critics say that deregulating the media industry will lead to extreme consolidation, shutting out smaller, independent outlets.

Craig Aaron, president of the group Free Press, said that the proposal would pave the way for media giants such as the Sinclair Broadcast Group to monopolize local news organizations.

“He’s fulfilling a longstanding industry wish list and ignoring how decades of runaway media consolidation have significantly harmed local news and independent voices,” Aaron said in a statement after Pai’s opening testimony. “We need to strengthen local voices and increase viewpoint diversity, not surrender our airwaves to an ever-smaller group of giant conglomerates.”

But Pai and other proponents of deregulation argue that the moves would allow outlets to diversify during a time when the media industry is struggling to remake itself to keep up with advances in technology.

The rules were passed in 1975 and were aimed at maintaining diversity in local media markets. The FCC will likely hold its vote on Nov. 16.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Pai also tried to fend off attacks over his response to Trump’s tweets about media outlets.

“I have said again and again and again that the First Amendment must be at the heart of our work,” Pai said.

Democrats have been hounding the GOP chairman in the weeks since Trump suggested revoking broadcasting licenses for NBC and other critical outlets.

Pai addressed the proposal a week later, saying that the FCC doesn’t have the authority to take action against media outlets over the content of their reporting.

But that hasn’t satisfied critics, who want Pai to give a full-throated denunciation of Trump’s threats.

“Chairman Pai has claimed that he has restored independence to the FCC, yet he refuses repeatedly to put any distance between himself and President Trump,” Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the ranking Democrat on the House Commerce Committee, said at Wednesday’s hearing. “That evasiveness does not inspire confidence.”