The following is a statement from Free Press, a national, nonpartisan organization working to reform the media through education, organizing, and advocacy. The organization promotes diverse and independent media ownership, strong public media, and universal access to communications.
SavetheNews.org has uncovered 22 more covert consolidation deals in its “Change the Channels” campaign. So far, more than 100 cases have been documented of local TV newsrooms combining operations to circumvent the Federal Communications Commission’s media ownership limits at the expense of independent, local journalism.
The new cases include three virtual triopolies—where one company owns or operates three TV stations in one market—in Birmingham, Ala., Montgomery, Ala., and Richmond, Va. The campaign has also found several more stations operating under Shared Services Agreements, in which a single consolidated newsroom with a single staff produces news for two or more stations.
By quietly merging newsrooms, TV stations are able to circumvent the Federal Communications Commission’s media ownership limits at the expense of independent, local journalism.
Change the Channels launched in June to expose the new face of media consolidation, and features an interactive map highlighting each city impacted by covert consolidation and shared news operations.
“After we launched Change the Channels, Free Press received dozens of e-mails from people concerned that covert consolidation has crippled their own local news,” said Libby Reinish, Free Press program coordinator. “We investigated every report, documenting 22 previously unidentified cases of covert consolidation in the process. These backroom deals are far more pervasive than we originally thought. The FCC should actively investigate these deals and develop standards and oversight mechanisms to protect and promote localism, diversity and competition in local TV.”
In its recent report on the “Information Needs of Communities,” the Federal Communications Commission revealed that more than 20 percent of commercial TV stations broadcast no local news and of those that do, “Nearly one-third of TV stations say they are running news produced by another station.” Free Press has now identified nearly 100 markets where these deals are in place, involving more than 200 stations.
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.
Coinciding with the campaign’s June launch, Free Press also released a new report providing case studies of covert consolidation deals. To read Free Press’ paper on covert consolidation, “Outsourcing the News,” click here.