Dave Richards for July 17th…………….
--Okay, I’m going to make a comment regarding a subject on which I should probably keep my thoughts to myself. I will reject my own wise advice this time because, while the behind-the-scenes workings of broadcast stations isn’t interesting to most people, if you knew something about it, yesterday’s actions and comments by federal government officials will make more sense to you.
The topic at hand is a petition to the FCC by an enormous broadcasting company named Sinclair to be allowed to purchase even more TV stations than it presently owns, and to purchase them from Tribune Broadcasting. This application has not been acted upon favorably by the FCC yet. Instead, it has been sent to an Administrative Law Judge.
You need to know that there really are limits to the number of stations which can be owned by one company. Because of those limits, when very large broadcasting companies like Sinclair want to buy more stations, they often have to sell off some of their lesser stations to avoid going over the cap in any one market. And here’s where something smells ‘fishy’ for the Federal Communications Commission. The Chairman of the FCC, Mr. Ajit Pai, has made a statement saying he is suspicious that some of the stations Sinclair will sell off in the proposed deal will still be under the day-to-day control of Sinclair. This is completely against the law.
The idea of “divestiture”, as selling off stations in this kind of situation is called, is to keep one company from controlling too much of the programming America sees. So, to control programming after you sell the station, as is suspected here, is simply not allowed. To hide this control is worse.
What few people are coming right out and saying here is Sinclair, with this purchase of Tribune stations would control by majority the local news programs on more TV stations than any other company has in U.S. history.
Time was that local TV news organizations, even those owned by large companies, were allowed to report the news the way they saw it at their local stations. What everyone is afraid of here is that Sinclair doesn’t operate that way. They tell the local newsrooms at all their stations what opinions to air and what ‘spin’ to put on stories, and even force their stations to air news stories and editorials which are not produced locally but which Sinclair wants broadcast, turning “local” news into “Sinclair Network” news.
You can now say, “who cares, it’s their station they can do what they want with it”. Well, here’s where I have to say I agree, to a point. However, that ‘point’, in my opinion, has been crossed when a virtual monopoly of out-of-town opinion is being forced upon the newsrooms of local stations masquerading as local news. To me it is dishonest.
People ‘in the know’ are already aware of this practice by Sinclair, but they are careful in expressing themselves for the obvious reasons. Congressman David Cicciline (D-RI-1) released the boldest of all the statements on the subject after yesterday’s FCC announcement, and I quote, “This is the right decision. If Sinclair buys Tribune, it will control the local TV news market. It will be able to raise costs, eliminate jobs, and threaten the integrity of local reporting.”
“Media consolidation doesn’t just raise the possibility of higher prices on consumers—it raises far deeper concerns about the ability of corporate monopolies, motivated both by profit and politics, to influence public opinion by injecting or withholding information from elected officials and voters.”
“Vigorous antitrust enforcement is one of the most important tools to protect our democracy against the concentration of economic power. The American people expect the FCC to prevent mergers like this one.” This is one time I can completely agree with Congressman Cicciline.
You see, we need to be careful here that we don’t just deny Sinclair’s actions because we disagree with the opinions they force their local newscasters to express. That would be wrong. What we need is more stations expressing their own opinions, thus diversifying opinion, points of view, and promoting a lively discussion on issues of public importance.
If Sinclair allowed their local newsrooms to make all programming and editorial decisions locally, I think this matter could be settled. But that is not the way they want to do business.
I’ve been in the broadcasting business all my working life. 50 years this past April. I’ve worked at stations which were sold. It’s often a terrible work experience. On one occasion I was the buyer. It’s never an easy thing for the employees. My heart goes out to my colleagues at Channel 10 TV, the Sinclair-owned station in Rhode Island. I want you to know that your friends here in Rhode Island know and appreciate the position you are in and we all hope that Sinclair, facing increasing pressure from government officials, will change their policies and allow more decisions at WJAR to be made by Rhode Islanders.
--That’s what I think. What do you think? Comments to: email@example.com or postal mail to Dave Richards, WOON Radio, 985 Park Avenue, Woonsocket, RI 02895-6332.
Thanks for reading.