The FCC is hearing both views this week following Chairman Tom Wheeler‘s recent proposal to restrict local TV joint service arrangements. National Association of Broadcasters CEO Gordon Smith came out swinging with a charge that the regulators are making it hard for broadcasters to promote localism and diversity — objectives called for in the Communications Act — according to notes publicly filed today of his visit yesterday with Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. He says that Wheeler lacks solid evidence and “makes sweeping generalizations” that are “arbitrary and capricious” about the problems that arise when a station handles ad sales, programming, or retransmission consent negotiations for a rival in the same market. These collaborations “greatly foster localism and diversity,” Smith says. He says that Wheeler’s proposals “use a sledgehammer where a scalpel, if anything, is far more appropriate.” Smith also called it “manifestly unfair” to bar TV stations from collaborating when it “permits the cable industry to do so.” All in all, the NAB chief says, the FCC is “not doing everything it could to actually promote localism and diversity.”
Others are pressing regulators to hang tough. There’s already “ample record evidence” showing that station collaborations hurt the public, Andrew Jay Schwartzman and Angela Campbell of Georgetown Law School said in their visit with Clyburn yesterday. “If particular arrangements would serve the public interest … the Commission can and should craft waiver criteria.” The number of waiver requests “would not be very large.” And if a station is too weak to stand on its own, then they “must be offered for sale, so that a diverse group of potential owners have an opportunity to bid on, and purchase, the properties.”
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