What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

How new FCC rules could affect your local news

Longstanding rules that prevented an individual or company from owning broadcast stations and newspapers in the same local market have been abandoned by the FCC. The sweeping changes come amid wider transformations in the media and digital landscape, and have raised concerns about their impact. Hari Sreenivasan talks to Keach Hagey of The Wall Street Journal.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

      The Federal Communications Commission has approved the most sweeping changes in a generation when it comes to the ownership of local newspapers, TV and radio stations.

    Hari Sreenivasan has the story from our New York studios.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    The FCC voted to do away with a longstanding set of rules that prevented an individual or company from owning TV stations and newspapers in the same market.

    The change allows a person or company to own both a newspaper and a TV station or radio station in the same local market. It also means broadcasters could own two of the top four stations in a given market.

    It all comes as the media and digital landscape is in the midst of a dramatic transformation. But there are concerns about the new impact.

    Keach Hagey is a media reporter with The Wall Street Journal.

    So, when we talk about local markets, how much of an impact do these rules have on, say, the news ecosystem in the local market?

  • Keach Hagey:

    A huge impact.

    I mean, this is what keeps broadcast TV owners from being able to own two of the top TV stations in a market, which they have been straining against these rules for years.

    And looking at how the ecosystem has involved, the broadcast-newspaper ownership ban had a huge impact on how — what the world looks like today. Unfortunately, the repeal of this is just a little too little, too late for the newspapers.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Because TV stations aren’t interested in buying newspapers. They’re not as profitable as they once were.

  • Keach Hagey:

    Right.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    But they could buy each other, or a larger conglomerate could buy multiple stations in that market.

  • Keach Hagey:

    Right. Totally.

    But, for many decades, a lot of companies were bumping up against these rules and shaping themselves accordingly.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And, so, what is the FCC’s rationale, and all the supporters, behind this?

  • Keach Hagey:

    The rationale is that, look around. This is not a world of three major broadcast networks and like one or two newspapers in a town anymore. There’s Facebook. There’s Google. People are increasingly getting their news online and from zillions of different sources.

    And this notion that people need to be protected from the possible monopoly power of a local broadcaster is — you know, it’s a little silly.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So, this isn’t the specific case about Sinclair Broadcast, but that’s been kind of part of this conversation, at least in the background.

  • Keach Hagey:

    Right.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    How are they impacted by this?

  • Keach Hagey:

    Well, it’s a little bit complicated. They certainly will be helped a little bit, especially in this pending deal they have to buy Tribune Media.

    This — these rules that were rolled back today really affect the larger markets. And Sinclair is traditionally is in smaller markets. It’s the biggest player in smaller markets. But if it buys Tribune, it will be in bigger markets, and so it won’t have to spin off as many stations if it does get this merger done.

    The bigger picture, a lot of why you are hearing so much about Sinclair is there have been other regulatory changes. There is one of the rules that was rolled back again about JSAs, joint service agreements. It’s complicated, but it basically lets broadcast station owners operate another station in their market.

    But Sinclair has been doing that for years. But it will be beneficial to Sinclair, and generally the regulatory environment has been very beneficial to them in the last year.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    But what are the concerns about media consolidation that these rules raise?

  • Keach Hagey:

    Well, the people who oppose this change are worried that having fewer voices in a community is going to be bad for democracy. It’s going to be bad for debate, and especially that allowing these TV companies especially to consolidate their newsrooms is going to mean journalists are going to be laid off, companies are going to look for cost efficiencies, and there’s going to be less news.

    You know, of course, the companies say, no, this is going to make it easier for us to make our newsrooms profitable.

    So, we will see.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Have there been companies kind of waiting on the sidelines for a relaxation of these kind of rules, ready to sort of go on a buying spree?

  • Keach Hagey:

    Absolutely.

    I mean, the broadcast industry has been straining against these rules for years, lobbying against them for years. So, I think what we will see most of is kind of like swaps between — two big station groups might, like, trade stations back and forth, so that one can have two stations in one market and the other one can have two stations in other market, because the real advantage is market power within a specific city.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right, Keach Hagey of The Wall Street Journal, thanks so much.

  • Keach Hagey:

    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment

Latest News