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Originally published Wednesday, December 25, 2013 at 4:05 PM

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Editorial: Disappointed by dealings at the Federal Communications Commission

Citizens must let the Federal Communications Commission their concerns about media consolidation. The agency just rushed to approve two major deals to consolidate media before the end of the year.

Seattle Times Editorial

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JUST as the Federal Communications Commission moves one step forward to protect the public interest, it takes a few steps back.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler surprised some critics early in his term by throwing out his predecessor’s ill-advised plan to ease long-standing rules prohibiting single ownership of multiple news outlets in the same market.

The agency also showed a little teeth when it forced Sinclair Broadcast Group (owner of KOMO 4 in Seattle and more than 160 stations nationwide) to alter its plan to use “shell companies” to buy yet more properties from Allbritton Communications. Sinclair and others had been using this shadow tactic to operate more than one station in some markets — a violation of FCC rules.

While Wheeler’s first days at the helm showed some promise of a new era of caution, the commission sneaked in two major — and disappointing — deal approvals right before the holidays.

On Dec. 20, the FCC greenlighted the huge Virginia-based Gannett’s $1.5 billion effort to purchase 17 Belo stations, including KING in Seattle. The panel also allowed Tribune, the company that recently emerged from bankruptcy, to move forward with a $2.7 billion agreement to purchase 19 stations from Ohio-based Local TV.

What’s the rush?

In late November, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., advised the agency to hold off on further acquisitions until a federal study into the effects of media consolidation is completed.

The FCC ignored his warning, doing citizens a disservice.

The faster these conglomerates are allowed to grow, the harder it becomes for newer, smaller broadcasters — particularly women and minority voices in local communities — to survive.

Since 2006, the number of full-spectrum television stations owned by African Americans has reduced from 18 to zero. It’s the saddest reflection yet of the FCC’s failure to protect and ensure public airwaves showcase local content, promote diverse viewpoints and encourage healthy competition.

The agency’s ownership policies are up for a quadrennial review in 2014. This is the time for citizens to speak up and tell the FCC to curb consolidation.

Because the more a handful of big media companies control the nation’s community news stations, the more they influence what we watch, how we think and the way we live.

Let’s protect what’s left of locally owned TV news.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

The Seattle Times

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