In joint comments, Free Press, Common Cause, the Institute for Public Representation, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ Inc., NABET-CWA and The Newspaper Guild-CWA say the FCC should deny the proposed sale because it violates the commission's newspaper-broadcast crossownership rule or the television duopoly rule.
Coalition Seeks To Deny Gannett-Belo
On Wednesday evening, six groups petitioned the FCC to deny Gannett’s acquisition of TV station owner Belo, claiming the acquisition of several of the stations would violate the FCC’s newspaper-broadcast crossownership rule or the television duopoly rule.
The petitioners were Free Press, Common Cause, the Institute for Public Representation, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ Inc., NABET-CWA and The Newspaper Guild-CWA.
The group’s filing said: “Gannett’s acquisition of several of Belo’s television stations — in cities including Louisville, Ky.; Phoenix; Portland; Ore.; and St. Louis — would violate the FCC’s newspaper-broadcast crossownership rule or the television duopoly rule. To circumvent those rules, Gannett has indicated it would operate the stations under Shared Services Agreements, transferring stations in name only to a third party that would allow Gannett to continue to run them. These covert consolidation arrangements would allow Gannett to control multiple media outlets in the same market, resulting in job losses, less diversity on the airwaves and diminished competition.
“These arrangements attempt to mask the true intent and effect of the transaction: to allow Gannett to simultaneously influence and control multiple media outlets in the same local market in a way that is contrary to the public interest and otherwise prohibited by the commission’s rules.
“If approved, the transaction will lead to job losses and a considerable reduction in the quality of journalism for millions of television homes. At the very least, these proposed arrangements are contrary to the spirit of the commission’s media ownership rules, which are intended to promote diversity, competition, and localism.
“The Gannett-Belo transaction is the first that petitioners are aware of that attempts to use sharing arrangements to circumvent the NBCO rule. Because it raises novel issues, the applications must be ruled on by the full commission rather than by the Media Bureau under delegated authority. We urge that the commission promptly deny the applications or designate them for hearing. Failure to act will encourage even further consolidation to the detriment of the public and will undermine the commission’s credibility and ability to regulate in the public interest.”
In a separate statement, Free Press President-CEO Craig Aaron said: “The FCC shouldn’t let Gannett break the rules. Media consolidation results in fewer journalists in the newsroom and fewer opinions on the airwaves. Concentrating media outlets in the hands of just a few companies benefits only the companies themselves.
“The deal would clearly violate the commission’s crossownership bans, with covert consolidation contracts working to combine newsrooms. We need the FCC to block this transaction to protect and promote local journalism.”
Gannett issued the following statement: “This transaction is entirely consistent with all FCC rules, policies and precedent, and will bring substantial benefits to the public.”