In a 3–2 decision, the Federal Communications Commission voted on Thursday to eliminate decades-old rules intended to preserve local media stations and prevent media monopolies.
In a public meeting, the Republican-controlled FCC voted to end a 42-year-old rule that prevents "cross-ownership" of radio, newspaper, and television assets in one market. The agency also voted to loosen rules allowing stations to coordinate with one another to sell advertising and to get rid of the "eight-voices rule," which barred TV stations in one market from mergers unless at least eight independently owned and operated stations would remain post-merger.
"It's about time," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said of Thursday's decision. "Few of FCC rules are staler than our media ownership regulations. ... After too many years of cold shoulders and hot air, this agency finally drags its broadcast ownership rules into the digital age."
The newspaper trade group News Media Alliance has heralded the FCC's efforts to ease restrictions intended to preserve media diversity in recent weeks, but consumer groups including Common Cause have protested such reform, saying it will lead to more major media corporations like Sinclair Broadcasting Group. (As of August of 2017, Sinclair owned 173 stations and was in the process of purchasing 42 more. Should those deals go through, Sinclair broadcasts will reach over 70 percent of American households, a fact that worries many anti-monopoly advocates.)
"Apparently, [Pai] has lost all sense of self-restraint. It's a virtual death sentence for local media," Common Cause adviser and former FCC commissioner Michael Copps told the New York Times in October.