In an effort to stop the GOP-controlled Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from gutting regulations aimed at preventing major corporations from dominating local media, a coalition of advocacy groups filed a lawsuit on Friday accusing the agency of repeatedly violating court orders to examine the impact of its deregulatory moves "on localism, diversity, and competition in broadcast ownership."
"The Pai FCC is a gift to the broadcast industry, as the commission bends over backwards to give favors to massive media conglomerates like Sinclair."
"This FCC seems intent on looking the other way as people in the U.S. brace for a new wave of media mergers," said Jessica González, deputy director of Free Press, one of the groups behind the suit. "Runaway consolidation gouges newsrooms and hurts communities—especially marginalized communities that more often depend on broadcast TV for local news."
Specifically, González argues that FCC chair Ajit Pai's aggressive deregulatory agenda is encouraging mergers like Sinclair Broadcast Group's proposed takeover of Tribune Media, which would give Sinclair—a company owned by a family of pro-Trump millionaires—control of enough local TV stations to reach 70 percent of American households.
"The Pai FCC is a gift to the broadcast industry, as the commission bends over backwards to give favors to massive media conglomerates like Sinclair," González said. "Meanwhile, people of color own a pathetically low number of broadcast stations in the U.S., and consolidation makes it much more difficult for broadcasters of color to enter the market. This latest move by the Pai FCC is patently discriminatory."
Joining Free Press in suing the FCC on Friday were Common Cause, Communications Workers of America, and the Office of Communication, Inc. of the United Church of Christ.
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As Common Dreams reported at the time, the FCC voted along party lines last November to roll back media ownership regulations, a move that advocacy groups warned could ultimately be the death knell of local media.
Last month, the New York Times revealed that Pai is under investigation by the FCC inspector general's office, which is looking into "whether Mr. Pai and his aides had improperly pushed for the [media ownership] rule changes and whether they had timed them to benefit Sinclair."
In response to the Times report, Free Press and other advocacy groups demanded that Pai recuse himself from all decisions related to the Sinclair merger, which has to be approved by the FCC.
"Approving this deal would do real harm to low-income families and people of color," Free Press said in a statement at the time. "It would turn Sinclair into a media colossus with the power to spread xenophobic and racist pro-Trump messages that threaten these communities. Pai must recuse himself and this deal must be rejected."