The Federal Communications Commission, the US government office that regulates the media, voted today (Nov. 16) to roll back rules dating back to 1975 designed to make sure American citizens had diverse sources of news.
After the FCC vote, companies that control a television broadcast station in one market can now own newspapers there as well. They’re also no longer required to prove there are eight other independent news outlets in any market, the so-called “eight voices rule,” to own a second station.
The FCC said the vote would “modernize” the industry by giving media companies a “greater opportunity to compete in the digital age.” But it was widely panned by free speech advocates as a gift to the pro-Trump Sinclair Broadcast Group, a family-run media company that calls itself the “leading local news provider” in America. FCC chairman Ajit Pai was nominated by Trump in January.
Sinclair owns 193 television stations in 89 major US markets, and made a $3.9 billion offer for Chicago’s Tribune Media earlier this year, which was hung up because Tribune owns 42 television stations, many of them in the same markets as Sinclair.
Combined, Sinclair and Tribune would have local television news channels in 39 of the top 50 US markets, which cover about 72% of U.S. households, according to the Los Angeles Times, which was previously owned by the Tribune.
“This FCC majority is serving the interests of Trump-connected firms, namely Sinclair and Tribune. Disgraceful,” said Common Cause, a non-profit group that promotes democracy.
Already, Sinclair runs what one Baltimore Sun columnist called “as close to classic propaganda as anything I have seen in broadcast television in the last 30 years.”
Earlier this year, Sinclair told all its stations it must run segments by former White House spokesman Boris Epshteyn nine times a week. Epshteyn, who was born in Moscow and moved to the US when he was 11, films short segments called the “Bottom Line with Boris” that push the Trump administration’s point of view:
The FCC vote was split 3-2, with the two Democrats on the commission dissenting, strongly and publicly: