Free Press and Put People First! PA have collaborated on a petition to deny the transactions that essentially send the television stations of Allbritton Comnunications to Sinclair Broadcast Group, and the American Cable Association and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition also filed petitions.
The objections of all three center on the use of JSAs and SSAs to give Sinclair control over more stations in a given DMA than they would be allowed to own outright under current local caps.
As Free Press/PPFPA put it, “SSAs designed to subvert the Commission’s rules are contrary to the public interest. Sinclair’s proposed sharing arrangements with Deerfield and HSH continue a recent and alarming acceleration in the use of such ‘covert consolidation’ deals, which are already widespread according to research conducted by Free Press and others. Moreover, as discussed below, Sinclair has been particularly inclined toward orchestrating these deals for the purposes of subverting the Commission’s rules, in the process gathering to itself unprecedented dominance in this country’s broadcast industry.”
If the deal is not denied outright, ACA at the very least wants conditions put in place in Harrisburg PA and Charleston SC to prevent retransmission negotiation collusion between stations operating I tandem under LMAs.
“The FCC should deny this TV station deal because it will reduce competition and harm consumers. Sinclair has clearly made plans to negotiate retransmission consent for two Big Four stations in the Harrisburg, Pa., and Charleston, S.C., markets. Sinclair’s intent is as clear as it is anti-competitive — to gain insurmountable bargaining leverage over ACA Members and stage, when needed, massive and strategically timed blackouts to enhance the receipt of windfall profits,” ACA President and CEO Matthew M. Polka said.
RPC pointed out that this its latest petition aimed at Sinclair follows another lodged back in 2004. It said it’s not LMAs in general, but Sinclair’s use of them that it objects to, stating “…this Petition is not intended as an indictment of all LMAs, JSAs or SSAs. A case can be made that, in some instances and with full transparency, such devices can preserve service that might otherwise disappear, or can be structured to empower a new entrant, secure its independence from larger broadcasters, and thus promote diversity. Unfortunately, many JSAs and most SSAs afford the public few if any benefits. NABET, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ, Inc., Free Press and others have made a powerful case that these devices generally reduce diversity. Are Sinclair’s JSAs or SSAs net-beneficial or net-harmful? Certainly a lesson that can be drawn from Sinclair’s domination of Cunningham is that the Commission should examine Sinclair’s newly created JSAs and SSAs with heightened skepticism.”
RPC believes at the very least that the FCC should hold a hearing to discuss this deal.
RBR-TVBR observation: The complaints about JSAs/SSAs are not likely to go anywhere. Parties can object to the practice all they want, but the run headfirst into the fact that the FCC has been allowing them to exist for years.
Filing a petition on this deal to strike down LMAs has almost no chance of bearing fruit. Better for anti-LMA organizations to hang their hats on the quadrennial review, where the practice may be addressed.
Even there, however, prospects are iffy. Former FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski had indicated he was interested in looking into them, but the most recent information we’ve seen indicates that the issue has failed to gain any traction within the halls of the Commission.