Broadcasters No Longer Need a Local Studio as FCC Changes Rule
(Bloomberg) -- Regulators eliminated a nearly 80-year-old requirement for TV and radio stations to maintain a main studio in or near the communities they serve, a step that broadcasters welcomed as trimming unneeded rules and critics called a step toward homogenized programming.
The rule is no longer needed to keep stations in touch with their communities, since email and social media have replaced visits to a studio, supporters of the change say. The Federal Communications Commission voted Tuesday to eliminate the rule adopted in 1939.
“This rule is unnecessary; most consumers get in touch with stations over the phone or through electronic means,” Republican Chairman Ajit Pai said in an online posting ahead of the vote. Stations can produce local news without a nearby studio, and the rule can impose “major costs” on broadcasters, Pai said.
Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said the agency with its vote is “paving the way for broadcast station groups, large and small, to terminate studio staff and abandon the communities they are obligated to serve.”
Killing the studio requirement while allowing more consolidation poses a “danger,” Newsmax Media Inc. Chief Executive Officer Christopher Ruddy said in an opinion article that appeared in The Washington Post.
“By owning local stations, the New York-based media networks could dictate local news coverage,” Ruddy said in the article. “With the planned elimination of the local studio rule, they will have a green light to do so.”
The policy group Free Press said cutting studios would lead to less local programming, a trend it tied to consolidation, including deals such as Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.’s proposed $3.9 billion purchase of 42 TV stations from Tribune Media Co.
“Communities need the main studio rule to help preserve broadcast media’s local roots,” Free Press said in a filing. “At a time when broadcast conglomerates like Sinclair are gobbling up more stations, the commission’s proposal would allow these conglomerates to move even more resources away from struggling communities and further centralize broadcasting facilities and staff in wealthier metropolitan areas.”
Sinclair has said the Tribune merger will boost its capacity to improve station facilities and expand local coverage, including news. “Sinclair has a long tradition of investing in newly acquired stations with the goal of improving the quality of their news and local programming,” the company said in its merger application to the FCC.
The National Association of Broadcasters trade group backed eliminating the regulation.
“The rule prevents stations from deploying personnel and finances where they are needed most -- towards investment in programming, coverage of local events, and equipment upgrades,” the broadcasters’ group said a filing.
Sinclair didn’t file comments with the FCC about the studio rule, and a company spokesperson declined to comment. Sinclair is a member of the broadcasters’ association.
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