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Pallone & Doyle Request GAO Review Local Broadcasting Agreements’ Effects on Competition, Localism & Diversity

Jul 11, 2018
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Ranking Member Mike Doyle (D-PA) today sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting a review of the effect  local broadcaster agreements have on the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) public interest goals of supporting competition, localism, and diversity.  These agreements allow one station – typically one with larger market share – to provide services such as news reporting and advertising sales for another typically smaller station.  While historically a means for marginal local stations to pool resources, such agreements have been used by Sinclair Broadcast Group in an effort to circumvent media consolidation protections.

Without competition, localism, and diversity, viewers can be left with newscasts at different stations reporting identical news stories that lack a local perspective.

“Given the prevalence of sharing agreements, including joint sales agreements, and shared services agreements — we believe such a review is necessary,” Pallone and Doyle wrote to GAO.  “There are concerns that this practice allows a single entity to become dominant in a market by exercising de facto control over stations for which they do not and would not be permitted to hold the licenses.  Moreover, research has suggested that such agreements result in a reduction in the diversity of separate news voices in localities.  The practice thus runs contrary to FCC’s policy goals for local television.”

In previous reviews conducted in 2014 and 2016, GAO found that data on such agreements were limited, but since that time FCC has revised its rules for local media ownership and now requires further disclosure of these agreements in stations’ public files.  Pallone and Doyle believe that more information may therefore now be available for understanding the breadth and impact of these agreements.

In light of their concerns, Pallone and Doyle are requesting that GAO review the following:

  • What is known about the extent of agreements between local broadcasters and how they affect local markets, particularly smaller markets?
  • To what extent have agreements between local broadcasters affected the diversity of news in a market and to what extent are viewers aware of shared news stories, scripts, and other effects of such agreements?
  • To what extent has the FCC defined targets for meeting its policy goals of competition, localism, and diversity and assessed how broadcaster agreements affect such goals?
  • To what extent has the FCC assessed the effect of broadcaster agreements on its policy goals of competition, localism, and diversity and how, if it all, could its analysis of these goals be strengthened?

The letter is available HERE.

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