The Media Bureau chief tells a Hill panel that since TV and newspapers are still most powerful media, the commission needs to continue to regulate who controls them. Rep. Henry Waxman agrees, Rep. Greg Walden objects, saying: “Without relief, I fear that local broadcast and newspaper companies will continue to struggle against unregulated competitors whose business models are not hamstrung by decades-old regulatory assumptions.”
FCC’s Lake: Ownership Rules Should Stay
Broadcast executives may have to wait for a few more years to win any meaningful further relaxation of the agency’s media ownership rules, because much of the news and other information programming that the public relies on continues to come from and TV stations and newspapers, said Bill Lake, chief of the FCC Media Bureau, on Wednesday.
Lake also told federal lawmakers that a recent “tentative” conclusion by the FCC that media ownership regulations continue to be necessary was based on the fact that about 30% of the public continues to lack access to broadband services.
“While distribution of local news and information, in particular, has become much more diverse [and] people find it on the Internet and elsewhere, the sources of that news and information remain principally the traditional media — newspapers and broadcast television,” Lake testified during a hearing before the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee.
“In five years or 10 years, if that figure [broadband penetration] is much closer to 100%, and if the electronic media are generating more original news than they do today, that might have tremendous implications for our media ownership rules,” Lake added.
He also told lawmakers that the FCC has invited the public to comment on whether deregulation may be warranted, as part of a new ongoing agency review of media ownership regs.
The existing rules strictly limit how many stations a single broadcaster can own in one market and bar broadcasters from buying daily newspapers in their markets.
“We’ll look very carefully at the updated information that people submit,” Lake said.
Lake’s sentiments against deregulation were seconded by some leading subcommittee Democrats during the hearing.
“Despite the wonder and the power of the Internet, broadcasters and newspapers continue to be the dominant sources for local news and information across all the new media,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.). “That makes these [FCC ownership] rules relevant even today.”
However, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the subcommittee’s chairman, said: “You guys don’t get it, that the marketplace has changed dramatically. Without relief, I fear that local broadcast and newspaper companies will continue to struggle against unregulated competitors whose business models are not hamstrung by decades-old regulatory assumptions,” Walden said.
Said Jane Mago, National Association of Broadcasters EVP and general counsel, one of the subcommittee hearing witnesses: “The current broadcast ownership rules are simply out of touch with the reality of today’s media marketplace. They distort competition,” Mago added. “Cable, satellite and Internet-based media outlets — who operate without these cumbersome regulations — continue to proliferate and take both audience share and advertising revenues.”
“To maintain the ability to provide quality local service and compete with newer technologies, broadcasters need a more level playing field with our competitors,” Mago added.
Paul Boyle, SVP of public policy for the Newspaper Association of America, also told the lawmakers during the hearing that the FCC’s newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban was outdated, “and ultimately results in a reduction in investment in local journalism.”
On another topic, the FCC’s Lake said that despite the agency’s recent crackdown on joint sales agreements and other station sharing arrangements, the FCC had approved the sale of 36 full-power stations in 12 different deals since mid-March.
“Far from coming to a halt, dealmaking in the industry continues,” Lake said.