In a deal that will allow one broadcasting company to reach 72 percent of U.S. households through ownership of local news stations, it was reported this week that Sinclair Broadcast Group is buying Tribune Media for nearly $4 billion.
Such a move wouldn’t have been possible a few weeks back, but Donald Trump’s new Federal Trade Commission (FCC) chairman, Ajit Pai, just began implementing sweeping changes to previously established media ownership rules. Bloomberg explains:
“A Sinclair-Tribune merger was made easier last month when the FCC restored a rule that allows TV station groups to count just half of their coverage area for Ultra High Frequency stations to comply with a 39 percent nationwide cap set by Congress.”
Reporting on the news, Democracy Now invited the president and CEO of Free Press, Craig Aaron, to comment on the significance of the purchase.
“Well, you know, we’re really concerned about so many things happening at the FCC right now,” Aaron told host Amy Goodman, “because Ajit Pai, Donald Trump’s pick to head the agency, has been dismantling all kinds of consumer protections and regulations, certainly net neutrality, which many of us consider the First Amendment of the internet, what protects your ability to go online, do whatever you want, go wherever you want, and download whatever you want.”
Continuing, Aaron calls the Sinclair-Tribune merger — and the others that will surely follow given the loosening of regulations at the FCC — an “unprecedented” wave of “media consolidation.” He asserts that an awful lot of power is about to be concentrated in only a few select spots:
“So we’re seeing a concentration of power on the broadcast side at the same time they are building up these powerful new gatekeepers, really doing the bidding of the most powerful companies and just paving the way for them to do whatever they want.”
Using Sinclair as an example, Aaron goes on to talk about how broadcasting giants are able to push the content they want across multiple platforms simultaneously:
“So they both like to try to buy up multiple stations in the same market, have one newscast going on multiple channels, as well as doing as much as they can from Sinclair headquarters in terms of pushing content out to their whole network.”
Calling Ajit Pai’s moves at the FCC “scandalous,” Aaron highlights the complexity of modern media and says that now — more than ever — we need an aware, conscious populace:
“So, at a time where we need more local news, more competition, more choices, better-informed communities, what we’re getting is the same cookie-cutter content coast to coast.”