WGAW to FCC: Keep Ownership Rules - Broadcasting & Cable

WGAW to FCC: Keep Ownership Rules

Says consolidation is principal threat to freedom of speech
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TV writers appear happy with the FCC's long-running script for broadcast station owners, which is to limit ownership and crossownership.

In comments to the FCC on its combined 2010 and 2014 quadrennial media ownership rule review, the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) said that protecting the public interest means the FCC must retain rules that "limit duopolies, prohibit mergers of the top four local broadcast stations, restrict newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership and prevent any of the top four broadcast networks from merging are necessary to maintain both local market and national competition."

Those are all the regs that broadcast station owners represented by the National Association of Broadcasters want to be changed or scrapped.

WGAW says the FCC needs to maintain the rules to prevent further media consolidation, while NAB argued in its comments that the rules should be loosened or lifted so its members can better compete with the consolidation in the MVPD marketplace.

"All one need do is look at today’s news and see the massive consolidation that has taken place and continues to take place in industries that directly compete, and in many cases, overwhelm broadcasters," NAB said in its comments. "As a result, media companies, including local TV and radio stations, have had to adjust their business models to remain relevant in a now highly competitive marketplace."

WGAW sees it differently, suggesting that the fact that those MVPDs and content providers are trying to merge argues for preventing broadcasters to follow suit.

"Comcast’s pending acquisition of Time Warner Cable and AT&T’s pending acquisition of DirecTV will reduce the number of national video distributors and give the two merged entities control of more than half of all cable television subscribers," WGAW said. "These distributors are merging in an effort to diminish competition, increase power over programmers—including broadcast stations—and increase control over distribution. These developments have already triggered consolidation among content providers, with 21st Century Fox attempting to acquire Time Warner, broadcast television’s unique role within the media industry merits rules to protect the public interest."

WGAW says that consolidation and the control of media by a "handful" of companies is the biggest threat to freedom of speech, and that the FCC has a "special obligation" to promote a diverse and competitive broadcast market, but that means keeping rules in place and closing "loopholes" like the UFH discount and sharing arrangements.

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