FINALLY, a powerful elected official is doing something about the Federal Communications Commission’s failure to protect the integrity of the public’s airwaves.
U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., warned new FCC chairman Tom Wheeler in a letter that his agency should proceed “cautiously” as it considers several pending television station sales.
Rockefeller, Senate commerce committee chair, gets it. Too many local stations are being bought up by a handful of companies too quickly. The result is less information from different viewpoints, and a weakened democracy.
Earlier this year, Maryland-based Sinclair Broadcast Group bought Seattle’s last locally owned station, KOMO 4. Layoffs followed.
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Other deals await, including Virginia-headquartered Gannett’s planned purchase of KING (a Seattle Times news partner) from Belo Corp.
Wheeler should hit the pause button on further transactions. Rockefeller urges the FCC, which regulates broadcast licensees, to wait for results of a nonpartisan Government Accountability Office study on the effects of media consolidation.
He requested the review last May amid concerns that a few conglomerates are breaking federal rules on station ownership limits and amassing stations nationwide.
Some broadcasters run multiple stations in the same market. They skirt rules by forming shell companies to run those extra channels.
If the FCC won’t crack down on such tactics, Rockefeller is right to warn the agency he’s watching its actions closely.
Without extra scrutiny, the FCC routinely caters to profit-driven corporations instead of communities. Democracy suffers when regulators refuse to uphold their core mission to preserve and promote competition, independent ownership and diverse perspectives on public airwaves.
At a speech last week in Ohio, Wheeler promised to preserve competition in the telecommunications industry. But actions speak louder than words.
The new chairman must h
old off on approving television station deals until there’s a complete review of how those sales affect local news viewers.