Wednesday, October 25, 2017

On 3-2 vote, FCC kills Depression-era rule that TV and radio stations must have local newsrooms

On a 3-2, party-line vote Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission eliminated a
requirement that local broadcasters must maintain newsrooms in the communities they serve, the culmination of a six-month process that "eliminated requirements that have kept local news broadcasting a mainstay of local television," Mitch Herckis reports for Route Fifty. "The outcome will likely be the elimination of many American communities’ primary lens for understanding the impact of local politics and policies, as well as a primary source of guidance when emergencies occur."

Pew Research chart: Poll respondents'
sources of local news in 2016 and 2017
The “main studio rule” required every station to “maintain a main studio located in or near its community of license … to ensure stations would be accessible and responsive to their communities,” Herckis writes. It was enacted in 1939 to ensure that stations would be “accessible and responsive to their communities. However, a local main studio is no longer needed to fulfill those purposes,” an FCC fact sheet says.

"Broadcast stations now interact with their communities of license online, and technology enables them to produce local news even without a nearby studio," the fact sheet says, and the FCC argues that broadcasters will also save money by consolidating media services and running them out of main offices in urban areas.

"Together, these actions could mean a significant change in local television programming and have significant implications for the future of policy discussions at the state and local level," Herckis writes. While local-news blunders are often the butt of internet memes and jokes, the local news does provide a significant service, and local media newsroom elimination would have significant implications for state and local governing and public awareness."

The FCC's ruling bears added significance after an April decision to allow the merger of Tribune Co. and Sinclair Broadcast Group, "which would put the local television news of 70 percent of U.S. households in the hands of one company," Herckis writes.

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