The Federal Communications Commission voted today to roll back rules meant to prevent consolidation in local media markets, the latest controversial decision in the agency’s recent war on regulations.
The commission’s 3–2 vote along party lines will roll back rules that blocked companies from owning newspapers and broadcasters in the same local market, or from owning two or more TV stations unless there are eight competing stations in the area.
Arguing that the aging rules had been rendered outdated by modern technology, Republican Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement that “the media ownership regulations of 2017 should match the media marketplace of 2017.” He said the flailing newspaper industry was a potential beneficiary of the decision.
But some have questioned the timing of the move, pointing to the proposed deal for conservative media company Sinclair Broadcast Group to purchase Tribune Media for $3.9 billion. The new rules would aid Sinclair in its plan to own a massive network of local TV stations. (Pai has argued that he has wanted to do away with the rules well before the Sinclair proposal.)
“Instead of engaging in thoughtful reform—which we should do—this agency sets its most basic values on fire,” Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. “They are gone.” She added that she was “hard pressed to see any commitment to diversity, localism, or competition in that result.”
The decision could still face litigation that would protect the rules, as Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn noted in a statement. “I vociferously dissent and look forward to the day when the court issues a decision to right this sad wrong,” she said.