Ever since the early 90s, stations that could not be merged via a purchase have shared certain operations under one form of a local marketing agreement or another. Anti-consolidation watchdog Free Press says that practice is becoming more pervasive within the ranks of broadcast television, depriving citizens of diversity of news sources.
Free Press says it has identified almost 80 such arrangements, involving about 200 stations. It goes further, providing an interactive map which shows their locations, and further locates Free Press says are the most egregious examples, in Asheville, N.C.; Chicago; Denver; Honolulu; Peoria, Ill; San Antonio; San Francisco; and Syracuse, N.Y.
“With the majority of Americans getting their news from local broadcast TV, and the lion’s share of local online news originating from local TV stations, we cannot afford to let media companies use covert consolidation to squat on our public airwaves,” said Libby Reinish, program coordinator of Free Press. “The news and information needs of our communities cannot be met when photocopy news is allowed to stand in for real news in the public interest.”
Free Press stated, “In most cases, these partnerships are established through deals that circumvent the FCC’s media ownership limits, while producing exactly the sorts of results the FCC rules are meant to help avoid: a decrease in competition, diversity and localism.”
RBR-TVBR observation: The topic of in-market television agreements could well come up when the FCC finally gets around to its quadrennial review of media ownership regulation. The Commission needs to do what it can to protect diversity of ownership, but it must also be mindful of the fact that for some co-operated stations, the absence of a local partner could mean no news, which causes a lack of both diversity and access, or it could mean a station going out of business entirely.