AFTRA rips proposal to relax TV ownership regs

Proposals by the Federal Communications Commission to loosen regulation of the TV ownership rules have drawn the fire of the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists.

Yesterday, the union’s leaders said they filed an objection with the FCC, opposing any further relaxation of the ownership regulations–proposals the FCC has been considering since May.

“AFTRA does not agree … with commenters who apparently conclude that the changes to date in the FCC’s regulatory scheme have been positive and in the public interest,” the union’s statement said.

In the last year, the FCC has relaxed radio ownership regulations from 12 AM and 12 FM stations to 30 AM and 30 FM. Last June, the FCC also decided to overturn rules that had previously prevented networks from owning cable systems.

Last May, the FCC proposed several ideas to further deregulate TV ownership rules, which currently bar companies from owning more than 12 stations or from having a national audience reach of more than 25%.

Among the proposals bandied about was raising the national ownership cap to 20 or 24 stations, additionally lifting the cap on audience reach to 35%. Other proposals include just capping station ownership at 18 stations with a 30% audience reach.

AFTRA, which represents some 70,000 members, believes such a move will mean job cuts for its members, among other things.

The union contends that as station owners look to purchase new outlets with further deregulation–often through “highly leveraged transactions”–their debt obligation pushes them to make cost cuts, usually in the areas of more expensive programming and in newsrooms.

“The pressures to generate profit for investors and corporate parents, repay debt and cut costs have forced both independent and group owners to make repeated use of the same tried-and-true advertiser-friendly programming and/or the same program formats in their broadcast outlets,” AFTRA’s statement said.

“It has been AFTRA’s experience that where common ownership of TV and radio properties in a local market is already permitted, the common owner has oftentimes combined and/or reduced news and public affairs departments with the obvious goal of reducing costs.

“Consolidation of news and/or public affairs staff directly and negatively impacts the availability and diversity of locally produced programming which serves the public interest.

“The consolidation of news rooms and the ownership of more outlets by the same companies work in tandem to reduce, not enhance, the diverse points of view provided and protected under the current system of ownership limitations,” AFTRA’s statement said.

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