Reps. Huffman and Price Introduce Local And Independent Television Protection Act

July 27, 2017

Washington, D.C.- New legislation introduced today by Representatives Jared Huffman (D-CA) and David Price (D-NC) would protect local television markets across the country from corporate consolidation by permanently ending the so-called “UHF discount,” an obsolete FCC loophole that the Trump administration wants to revive to benefit right-wing media conglomerates. If the UHF discount is allowed to go into effect, a series of pending corporate mergers, including one with the Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media, would dramatically reduce competition among local TV stations across the country.

“Preventing monopolies in local media and turning back the tide of corporate consolidation has never been more vital than it is today,” said Rep. Huffman. “In Eureka, California alone, the FCC’s recent decision to reinstate the discredited and antiquated UHF discount means that a single right-wing media owner, Sinclair Broadcast Group, will control a majority of the news that my constituents in Eureka see on television, no matter which news broadcast they choose to watch. This is not the Soviet Union: Americans deserve a meaningful choice in their local news, and our Local and Independent Television Protection Act would ensure that every American has access to a variety of local news sources that report on the local – and national – issues they care most about.”

“Our democracy depends on a diverse media that can address local needs and serve the public interest,” said Rep. Price. “The FCC’s decision to reinstate the technically obsolete UHF discount is a thinly veiled attempt to fast track mega mergers at the expense of Americans who want reliable and trustworthy news from their local broadcasters. The issue of continued corporate media consolidation isn’t a problem for just Democrats or just Republicans – it’s a problem for anyone who wishes to receive news and other programming from a local broadcaster that isn’t captive to a political or corporate agenda.”  

"Local television remains an important source of local news. It's especially important for people of color, Spanish speakers, elderly populations, low-income individuals, and others less likely to have cable TV and affordable internet access. Yet we're not getting the diversity of competing viewpoints and local content that we need from broadcasters because of runaway consolidation, aided and abetted by loopholes like the UHF Discount,” said Free Press Action Fund Deputy Director and Senior Counsel, Jessica J. González. “That discount is a relic of a bygone era, from a time when UHF signals were too weak to reach everyone. With today's technology, these signals are actually stronger than other broadcast channels. Yet the current FCC, despite its supposed focus on getting rid of obsolete technical rules, revived this one to pave the way for mega-mergers proposed by conglomerates like Sinclair. We thank Reps. Huffman and Price for introducing this bill to close that loophole."

As John Oliver recently pointed out, the Sinclair Broadcast Group has “must-run” segments and slanted polls that it requires all of their stations to run.

On April 20, 2017, President Trump’s Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Ajit Pai called a vote to reinstate the UHF discount, which allows television station owners to significantly increase their national reach. Federal law establishes a national television ownership cap to prevent any single company from owning television stations that collectively reach more than 39% of the country, a competition requirement to ensure the continuation of the diverse and local news sources essential to a robust democracy. The UHF discount, by contrast, makes this cap meaningless, letting media companies “discount” UHF stations (channels 14-83) by half when calculating whether the company is subject to the national television ownership cap. With the UHF discount reinstated, a single company can buy enough local TV stations to reach up to 78% of Americans, dramatically increasing their national scope, public influence, and control of household news content.

One day after the FCC’s reinstatement of the UHF discount, Sinclair Broadcast Group announced that it had entered an agreement to purchase Bonten Media Group for $240 million, expanding its reach in Northern California and elsewhere across the nation. With this purchase, Sinclair will own four of the seven commercial television stations in the Eureka, CA, community. The Trump administration’s reinstatement of the UHF discount is currently being reviewed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit after a lawsuit was filed by several public interest groups.

Specifically, the Local and Independent Television Protection Act:

  •        Requires the FCC to act within 90 days to permanently end the UHF discount; and
  •        Grandfathers any stations owned prior to September 26, 2013, which is commensurate with the FCC’s previous efforts to end the UHF discount.

The legislation is cosponsored by Reps. Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Jerry McNerney (D-CA), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Jackie Speier (D-CA).

The legislation is supported by: Free Press Action Fund, Public Knowledge, National Hispanic Media Coalition, Common Cause, and Consumers Union.