The Big Media giant that made waves during the last election for its heavy-handed biased coverage, is setting its sites on more local stations in more communities across the US.
Research shows that locally owned broadcast TV and radio stations give more time to local news and public affairs programs that are of concern to local people. Additional research shows that local ownership leads to a greater diversity of viewpoints on the airwaves. And common sense suggests that a large number of local owners in a given community are going to foster more competition than a few mega corporate owners. These three principals – localism, diversity, and competition – are at the heart of the FCC’s mission.
On Dec. 18, the FCC voted to gut the longstanding newspaper broadcast cross-ownership ban that prohibited one company from forming a media monopoly in a city. Although this rule change threatens every core value the agency was created to protect, at least one company doesn’t think they went far enough.
This week, Sinclair Broadcast Group filed suit in the D.C. Federal Court to force the FCC to dismantle another key public interest protection. The law now says that one company can own only two stations in a market if at least eight other voices remain (this is often called the “eight-voices test”). This is the second time in the past decade that Sinclair has tried to use the courts to force the FCC to give them a corporate handout that hurt local communities.
Such a move also threatens our democracy. Some might suggest that I exaggerate, but citizens depend on the media to give them the information, to do the hard digging and in-depth reporting they need to make informed decisions on everything from health care, Social Security, housing, and the environment. The media’s role in our democracy is even more clear in an election year.
Four years ago Sinclair, which controls more stations than any other TV chain in the nation, came under fire for pre-empting local primetime broadcasts at its stations across the country to air the anti-John Kerry documentary Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal two weeks before the 2004 election. At that time Sinclair reached nearly one quarter of American households.
Sinclair has a long history of using its wide reach to promote its own business interests and political bias. Earlier in 2004, Sinclair ordered its affiliates not to broadcast an episode of the ABC evening news program Nightline on which Ted Koppel read the names of the 721 US troops who had died in Iraq up to that point. Sinclair told local stations that the show and its host were unpatriotic.
Regardless of your political affiliation, these kinds of actions highlight the power of one big company to influence elections and the need for independent voices and local owners. The fact that Sinclair is again trying to expand their reach and buy up more local stations in more communities should worry everyone.
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