FCC chairman Ajit Pai pens blog on media ownership policy

Natalie Bannerman
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Ajit Pai, chairman of the FCC, pens a blog post on why the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule is outdated and needs to be repealed

Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, has written a blog post at the NYtimes, detailing his views on a repeal of the media ownership policy.

A vote by the FCC on the policy is due to take place on 17 November and Pai thinks it’s time for the legislation to be repealed.

In the blog he says the regulatory world of the Federal Communications Commission operates in is “archaic” and a place where “core media ownership rules presume the marketplace for news is defined entirely by pulp, rabbit ears and transistor radios”.

Called the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule, the policy restricts broadcast media companies to also own newspapers, and vice versa, in the same market.

According to Pai, the rule was originally created with the purpose of “preserving and promoting a diversity of viewpoints” a fact that was relevant back in 1975 when it was made. But in today digital era this rule is only harming the diversity of viewpoints it was created to protect.

Due to the decline in print and the growing number of readers turning to the internet for their news, coupled with the dominance of internet giants like Google and Facebook who have claimed 100% of the recent online advertising growth, the rule only singles out struggling news outlets and stopping them from growing. Pai says that in order for newspapers to continue to play an important role in civics “they need more access to capital” and describes their decline as a “real threat to independent reporting.”

In addition, he argues that a cross-owned TV station produces more local news than comparable non-cross-owned stations and is five times more likely to have a news format. Which Pai justifies because “a company that owns both a newspaper and broadcast outlet is able to gather the news and distribute it more cost-effectively across its multiple platforms.”

He adds that the FCC needs to create a “level regulatory playing field” and that it is unfair for internet companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter to be allowed to buy newspapers “while a small AM radio station is prohibited from purchasing its local paper”.

Conversely critics of Pai proposed elimination of the rule will cause additional media consultation to which he replied “I understand that point of view and recognize that some limits are needed. That’s why, for example, F.C.C. rules will continue to prohibit any company from owning more than two television stations in any market.”

In closing he said that the decision to repeal the policy “crosses partisan lines” citing Reed Hundt, president Bill Clinton’s first FCC chairman who argued in a speech in 2013 that “the rule is perverse.” And Pai ended in saying that “few regulations are more disconnected from today’s realities than the F.C.C.’s media ownership rules.”