In Wednesday’s edition of The Seattle Times, the editorial board commended the Federal Communications Commission’s decision this week to crack down on media consolidation by ending the practice of joint sales agreements (JSAs). A majority of commissioners agreed that waivers should be granted only in cases where station leaders can prove that partnerships truly serve the public interest through quality and diverse programming on public airwaves, and not just to to increase profits for private companies.
Members of the Federal Communications Commission in a November 2013 photo. Left to right: Commissioner Ajit Pai, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, Chairman Tom Wheeler, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and Commissioner Michael O’Rielly. (Photo provided by the FCC)
Are you one of the millions of Americans still getting your information from your local television news? Here are five things you should know:
1. Media consolidation is real.
Fewer owners nationwide control what viewers see and hear. Imagine what that means for communities and American democracy, which relies on many perspectives to maintain a self-governing, informed electorate. Look at the interactive graphic featured in a Oct. 29, 2013 Opinion Northwest blog post.
In Seattle, the commercial stations are all owned by out-of-state conglomerates. Last year, Sinclair Broadcast Group bought KOMO-TV and Gannett purchased KING-TV. KIRO-TV is owned by Cox Media Group. KCPQ-TV’s parent company is Tribune. They are staffed by local (and beloved) news producers and reporters, but their financial interests are in the hands of owners who do not have close ties to the community.
That’s not to say the quality of news has gone down the drain, but the loss of local ownership is something to keep in mind next time you notice there’s a dearth of quality, local content and more packages stories from other markets.
2. Broadcasters have used JSAs to skirt federal rules and control more than one station in various markets.
Last October, The Wall Street Journal’s Keach Hagey wrote a comprehensive report about the use of “sidecar” agreements, in which broadcasters such as Sinclair skirt federal limits and operate more than one station in some markets by outsourcing management duties. As noted in Wednesday’s Seattle Times editorial, the FCC should force broadcasters to disclose all shared-service agreements.
3. The consolidation is sweeping the country.
The graphic below, by the media watchdog group Free Press, shows where JSAs and other forms of shared-service agreements are in place around the country. Free Press calls these partnerships “covert consolidation.” (Read more about the ways broadcasters have violated federal rules on Free Press’ blog.)
(Map: Free Press)