By now, I’m sure you realize I’m a fan of the underdog. Fly, Philadelphia Eagles, fly!
I also strongly believe in holding people in high positions accountable for their acts, even off the clock. Canâ€™t deny that after the recent string of sexual harassment allegations and confessions from some of the smartest and most talented people in America.
That’s why I reacted so strongly when I saw this article by the editor of TVNewsCheck, one of several industry websites.
Iâ€™ve written articles condemning the loosening of many regulatory protections, like net neutrality.
Harry Jessell, who I tried to reach privately on LinkedIn (I always try to reach somebody privately before writing about them), wrote a column called “End Discriminatory Regs Against Broadcast” and it’s exactly what you may expect.
He argued TV stations face too many rules and that Sinclair Broadcast Group should not have to pay a tentative $13.4 million fine to the Federal Communications Commission for “allegedly airing news programming that was paid for by a sponsor.”
Keep in mind, Sinclair owns 193 TV stations in 89 cities. See if they’re on the air where you live. They may be soon! Not too shabby!
That’s because FCC rules were recently loosened — reportedly cheered on by President Trump — so it can buy the Tribune Media stations around the country. That’ll get Sinclair’s controversial perspective on a tremendous number of new screens in big cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Miami, among others, for the first time. Not too sympathetic!
It just bought Bonten Media Group‘s five stations including WCYB in the Tri-Cities of TN/VA, where I used to work. Click here and see how the WCYB website’s look seemed to change overnight. It’s like everything is becoming the same and there’s no need nor room for creativity. (Try to be creative and risk being kicked out, even if you’re specifically asked for suggestions during your interview. Companies want their own style and tone.)
Sinclair requires conservative commentaries sent from its Maryland headquarters to air during its stations’ local newscasts. That causes viewers to think the biased people they see every night, tossed to by their local anchors, are local as well.
In 2004, Sinclair barred the ABC affiliates it owned from airing the episode of Nightline that profiled American soldiers killed overseas. (It owns stations affiliated with all of the networks.) The same year, it tried to get its stations to carry a pre-election film that bashed presidential candidate John Kerry. (Some might even say the First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of speech is only for station owners, not employees nor the public.)
Its gargantuan size already has liberals worried about its influence on elections.
Jessell called the â€œsponsored newsâ€ rule antiquated and discriminatory, and claimed “native advertising has been around forever” under “names like advertorial, sponsored content, promoted content and infomercial.”
He also said it’s everywhere, and that print and digital media companies even get paid to invent it.
Plus, the rules may have been OK decades ago when broadcasters were becoming more powerful, rather than today when they face new competition from “aggressive digital giants.”
And he trusts viewers will eventually spot the advertising and change channels or media.
But I disagree. First, I don’t give viewers as much credit. There needs to be a separation — between news and opinion, as well as advertising — and Iâ€™d hate to be a journalist losing credibility by following Sinclairâ€™s unique requirements.
#WeAreSinclair: â€œWe will be just as committed to local news there as we are in our other successful markets.â€
I’ve seen some of their other stations and don’t buy it. #phl17https://t.co/OKuHDXUp7k
â€” Lenny Cohen (@feedbaylenny) January 12, 2018
I do admit with more competition, a broadcast license is no longer a license to print money as it used to be.
But the airwaves belong to the public. TV stations have special responsibilities. Owners who don’t like them should be in a different business.
Anybody can print a newspaper, start a website, or even shoot material for a cable channel if they can get it carried.
Meanwhile, broadcasters get special protection like must-carry on cable systems, or they can demand money to be carried — which is much more common. (Then, of course, the network theyâ€™re affiliated with will demand a chunk of cash. Itâ€™s called reverse compensation.)
There used to be strict limits as to how many stations an owner can own. Theyâ€™ve practically disappeared. Orders come from out of the area.
Owners were not allowed to own two stations in the same city. Now they can under certain circumstances.
Owners were not allowed to own two stations in neighboring cities (a grade-B overlap), since people who live in between can pick up both. Now they can.
Station owners are fighting like hell to be able to own newspapers. I believe the only one allowed without being grandfathered in that was OK was WNYW-Fox 5 in New York. Otherwise, the New York Post wouldâ€™ve gone out of business. But then Fox also bought WWOR-Channel 9 and got rid of its news department — a big blow to New Jersey. (Fox’s newspaper business was later spun off into a different company.)
You give them an inch and they ask for a foot!
Look at this example in an ad on Rick Gevers & Associatesâ€™ website and newsletter!
That’s six stations and not a joke!
The two Democrats on the five-member FCC pretty much called the Sinclair fine peanuts because Sinclair aired the sponsored content 1,723 times on 77 stations, has had trouble with the FCC before and grossed $2.7 billion in revenue last year. The fine could’ve been $82 million.
Go to the article’s website and check out the comments. My favorite:
Fair enough Harry. (1) Remove broadcasters’ FCC licenses. (2) Charge broadcasters 8% of gross annual revenue for the right to transmit on the public airwaves. (3) Remove all special treatment regarding cable/satellite “must carry and retrans.”
1) broadcasters could police airwaves privately; 2) station owners paid plenty for most of their frequencies; few got them for free; 3) retrans could be privatized and broadcasters would get the same amount of money. I have no love of must carry.
Did you notice the first part? Somebody else commented:
Broadcasters POLICE THEMSELVES??? haaaaaaaa, hysterical
And that person commented in a separate post:
Harry Jessell – is this particular article “End Discriminatory Regs Against Broadcast” – PAID FOR, in any way, shape or form?
What I wrote (using my own name):
Broadcasters use the public airwaves. Unlike other media, the airwaves broadcasters use belong to the people. They need to be protected, and the government has every right to regulate broadcasters in exchange for letting them use those airwaves. Throughout the decades, the government has been more and more lenient with broadcasters, letting them own more and more stations, and in closer proximity to each other, and licencing them for a longer time. If broadcasters don’t like it, then they should give up using the public’s airwaves that don’t belong to them and get into one of those other businesses you mentioned. Then they won’t have to worry about public service.
I think Sinclair should consider itself lucky. Very lucky.
I hope the underdog Eagles are as lucky in the NFC Championship against Minnesota and make it to the Super Bowl!
Sorry, Falcon fans.#FlyEaglesFly
â€” Lenny Cohen (@feedbaylenny) January 14, 2018