Members of Congress, Fellow Republican Commissioner Warn FCC Doesn’t Have the Authority
WASHINGTON, D.C. – According to a report by Bloomberg, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai will move to raise the television ownership caps, set by Congress, that limit any broadcaster from owning stations that reach more than 39 percent of the country. Sinclair Broadcast Group, currently under FCC review for its proposed merger with Tribune Media, would far exceed the current ownership caps, reaching 72 percent of U.S. households. The move comes despite warnings from leaders in Congress, and even one of Pai’s fellow Republican members of the FCC, that only Congress has the authority to set or raise the ownership cap.
Just this week, top Democratic members of the communications and technology subcommittee sent a letter to FCC commissioners reminding them that, “Congress imposed a 39% national cap for broadcasters and that we did not create any loopholes around this cap.” The members make clear that the FCC does not have the authority to change the cap as Chairman Pai is proposing. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Energy and Commerce ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), and Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) also told the FCC that Sinclair should not be able to use the UHF discount, reinstated last spring by Pai, in order to meet the 39 percent cap. According to the letter, to allow Sinclair to exceed the ownership caps or bend the ownership caps to fit Sinclair’s largesse would violate “the will of Congress.”
Republican FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly has said in the past he believes the FCC does not have jurisdiction to raise the ownership caps. In a dissent, O’Rielly stated, “I reject the assertion that the Commission has authority to modify the National Television Ownership Rule in any way, including eliminating the UHF discount, and therefore I dissent.” He went on to say that the only body capable of changing the ownership rules was Congress.
“The lengths to which Chairman Pai will go in order to help Sinclair monopolize the local television news industry is astonishing. This move is not only the latest in a series of rule changes tailor-made for Sinclair’s benefit, it is an egregious, and likely illegal, example of overreach by the FCC,” said Karl Frisch, executive director of Allied Progress.
He continued, “When Congress set the national ownership caps, it was with the intent to protect the market from ruthless monopolization, protect consumers from higher costs, and protect a free and independent media. Not only does the Sinclair-Tribune merger violate the public interest, Pai is actively working against the public interest and the will of Congress to force this deal through.”
Even before today’s news, the FCC under the Trump administration has been called “a clear and present danger to democracy.” Sinclair has built a reputation for its right-wing content, and has a record of forcing pro-Trump content into local news. Sinclair even hired Trump’s former campaign spokesperson, Boris Epshteyn, to create “must run” segments that air on Sinclair’s current 191 stations.
To speak with Karl Frisch about FCC Chairman Pai or the Sinclair-Tribune merger, please contact Annette McDermott at 202-697-4804 or Annette@alliedprogress.org.
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