FCC Vote Praised as Saving Jobs, Ownership Diversity
Though the final vote was the result of compromise, advocates of minority broadcast ownership and jobs for journalists of color each took comfort Monday in a 3-2 vote by the Federal Communications Commission “to bar companies from controlling two or more TV stations in the same local market by using a single advertising sales staff,” in the words of Gautham Nagesh, writing for the Wall Street Journal.
“The proposal, which is part of the FCC’s regular review of its media ownership rules, passed by a party-line vote after the addition of language designed to encourage waivers for joint sales agreements that encourage diversity in media ownership,” Nagesh wrote. “Three of the four full-power TV stations in the U.S. owned by African-Americans are party to such agreements, and would be likely to secure waivers. . . .”
Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who was considered the swing vote and had pressed diversity concerns, said of the vote, “To me, perhaps one of the most ironic and unexpected by-products has been that the issue of diversity, all of a sudden, has risen in the debate. When this was initiated, I had no idea that it would spawn such a heated dialogue on the value and importance of minority broadcast ownership. It is my hope that this concern and expression of goodwill lives well beyond this item. . . .“
Armstrong Williams, the conservative commentator who owns two stations as the result of a shared services agreement with Sinclair Broadcasting Co., said by telephone, “The fact that they will give waivers for minorities — that has to include me. I was encouraged.”
A JSA, or joint sales agreement, is between two stations in the same market in which one station is authorized to sell advertising time on the other. A shared services agreement, or SSA, “allows same market stations to share resources, such as employees, administrative services, or hard assets, such as a news helicopter,” as the FCC defines it.
“FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler argued broadcasters use joint sales agreements to get around the FCC’s limit on owning more than one full-power TV station in the same local market,” Nagesh wrote. “The agreements ‘have been used, skirting the existing rules, to create market power that stacks the deck against small companies seeking to enter the broadcast business,’ Mr. Wheeler said,” Nagesh’s story continued.
Approving of the FCC action in a Facebook message, Bob Butler, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, wrote, “Since these SSA’s have become widely used, some companies have decided to shut down their newsrooms and contract with a competitor to provide newscasts.
“This results in the layoffs of journalists and reduces the diversity of viewpoints that the FCC supports.”