The attorneys general say that the FCC lacks authority to raise the nominal 39% cap, but it does have the power to eliminate the UHF discount and it should exercise that power to prevent all stations groups from exceeding 39%. “[L]ifting or eliminating the national audience reach limit threatens diversity, competition, and localism,” they say.
The Attorneys General of eight states — Illinois, California, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia — yesterday called on the FCC to keep a tight lid on how many homes TV station groups may serve.
The filing came in the FCC rulemaking aimed at loosening the national cap on station ownership. Although the rule nominally limits the reach of groups to 39% of TV homes, a so-called UHF discount used in calculating the reach raises the effective cap to as high as 78%.
Congress set the 39% cap so the FCC lacks the authority to tamper with it, the AGs argued. However, they said, the agency has the power to eliminate the UHF discount and should use it to bring the effective cap back to where Congress wanted it — 39%.
Questions of authority aside, they said, “lifting or eliminating the national audience reach limit threatens diversity, competition and localism.
“Indeed, large media companies advocating for lifting or eliminating the limit or maintaining the UHF discount seek the opportunity to reach — and thus influence — as many Americans as possible without concern for the implications for a diverse media landscape.
“Such an approach, if realized, would significantly reduce the number of independently owned and operated television stations, thereby limiting competition, reducing station ownership by women and minorities, and inhibiting the ability of stations to create and disseminate content that reflects the interests and preferences of individual localities.
“Local preferences could be lost in other contexts like sporting, religious, or scientific programming if, as a result of excessive consolidation, a large owner requires all of its stations to show particular sporting contests, religious celebrations, or scientific perspectives, regardless of the popularity of those sports, celebrations, or perspectives in certain areas.
The AGs cite Sinclair Broadcast Group as an example of what will befall all of broadcasting if the UHF discount remains in effect or if the FCC raises the cap.
Sinclair has “distributed news stories and features that all of its stations were required to run in their evening or morning newscasts,” they said.
The FCC launched its review of the national ownership cap on Dec. 14, 2017. The deadline for the first round of comments had been set for Feb. 26, but, at the request of NAB, it was moved to March. 19.