TechFreedom On Pai’s ‘Modernization’ Plan: YES!


On Thursday, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai released a draft order that would modernize regulations governing ownership of local print, radio and TV news outlets, in order to allow the industry to better adapt to the changing media landscape. The Order, which will be voted on at the FCC’s November 16 Open Meeting, would eliminate newspaper/broadcast and radio/television cross-ownership rules, as well as adopting a case-by-case approach to competition in television markets.

What’s the view of TechFreedom, a non-profit, non-partisan technology policy think tank that believes “technology enhances freedom, and freedom enhances technology”? They’re all for it, and have been for years.

Even fifteen years ago, it was clear that 1970s rules no longer made sense given the pace of technological change,” said TechFreedom President Berin Szóka. “The New York Times called the rules outdated in 2003. And it hasn’t just been Republicans calling for reform. In 2013, Reed Hundt, President Clinton’s FCC Chairman, called the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule ‘perverse’ and for the FCC to ‘honor the freedom to own the means of speech.’ This isn’t a partisan issue. It’s great that Jeff Bezos saved The Washington Post, but if it hadn’t been for the FCC’s ownership limits, broadcasters could have started saving newspapers across the country years ago. Far from undermining localism, the original underlying concern behind the rule, combining newsrooms would have helped ensure quality local content could survive the massive shift in attention towards digital media. The same goes for local broadcasters sharing sales teams.”

The Order would also also eliminate the attribution rule for television joint sales agreements (JSAs), which previously required that when two stations in the same market enter into a JSA that accounts for more than 15% of one station’s advertising time, that station must be attributed to the other for the purposes of the FCC’s local television ownership rule.

Last year, on a TechFreedom Tech Policy Podcast, Matthew Berry, Pai’s chief of staff, noted that “all the evidence in the record is that joint sales agreements are good for localism and good for diversity. We’ve talked about providing the only local Spanish-language news in Kansas. That came about as part of a JSA… I can provide you with many more examples, but in terms of having local newsgathering, in terms of diversity, allowing different voices to own television stations, JSAs have been very important.”

Across the board, the FCC needs to allow print and broadcast media to experiment with new ways of doing business that can support new ways of delivering content,” concluded Szóka. “Only by getting out of the way can the FCC give traditional media a fighting chance of surviving the Digital Revolution the only way any company can: by digital evolution.  Any further delays will only further undermine American journalism.”

Much of Pai’s efforts as chairman have focused on updating the Commission’s media regulations, beginning with his introduction of the Modernization of Media Regulations Initiative, introduced this April.

And, in his opening statement at the FCC oversight hearing before the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee on Wednesday, Pai remarked that every FCC Open Meeting for the foreseeable future would include efforts to repeal or streamline outdated media rules identified by the significant public response to the Initiative launched in April.

Pai’s proposal will also seek comment on establishing an incubator program to encourage diversity and new entrants into the media sector.