Statement regarding Sinclair purchase of Bonten TV stations in Eureka DMA

Statement regarding Sinclair purchase of Bonten TV stations in Eureka DMA

Posted July 6th, 2017 by seanm

Statement of Sean McLaughlin, executive director for Access Humboldt, Eureka, CA
[, c: 707-616-2381]

Re: Transfer of Broadcast TV licenses in Humboldt County California, from Bonten Media Group to Sinclair Broadcast Group

Approval of the Sinclair Bonten deal is another disappointing decision by an FCC that cares not for any public process in the licensing of public airwaves. Just like FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, we were surprised to learn of the decision over a holiday weekend and challenged to engage such an opaque process.

Since the corporate office announcements a few months ago, we’ve opposed Sinclair Broadcast Group acquisition of Bonten Media Group because the transaction fails to meet the public interest standard, noting that the deal includes the only Spanish language media outlet in our region.

We’ve argued that the FCC must require consumer protections and specific public interest benefits as enforceable conditions of approval because Sinclair’s purchase of Bonten will transfer private ownership for essential local communications assets to distant owners. These broadcast TV licenses are a public asset, so the licensee holds only a temporary lease with conditions to meet the public interest, convenience and necessity.

From experience, we know that consolidated absentee ownership reduces competition, threatens media localism and harms information diversity. For example, when the DTV transition modified the transmission systems for local TV broadcasters, coverage in the Eureka DMA, including large swaths of Humboldt County, was significantly reduced.

While Bonten has made substantial investments in local origination, Sinclair has a reputation for requiring their owned affiliate stations to air non-local editorial content during local newscasts. This “must air” practice effectively reduces local origination of news and information programs that address controversial issues of public importance. Beyond a mere rubber stamp of approval, FCC policies need to insure that local broadcasters provide reasonable opportunities for local and opposing views to be expressed.

We hoped that the FCC would take this opportunity to address local jurisdictions’ concerns by ordering, or agreeing to contractual obligations, that Sinclair meet basic public interest requirements to address community needs and interests.

Ensure Localism with meaningful investments in local news and information programming to support public interests of local, state and tribal jurisdictions:
require station broadcasts to identify “must air” non-local content from absentee owner on-screen;
provide equal airtime for local editorial content expressing opposing views; and,
ensure that Spanish language channel(s) include equivalent local program origination as other channels and that tribal jurisdictions have in-language programming available on-air.

Promote Universal Access with investments in new infrastructure for our least served people and places:
require installation and maintenance of additional translator/repeater facilities to ensure full coverage of the entire Designated Market Area(s) served;

Transparency and accountability to local jurisdictions through community-based participation in local programming:
maintain public files, including annual reports on compliance with contractual promises available at every local library location;
dedicate multi-cast channel(s) programmed entirely with locally originated non-commercial content from local jurisdictions. [Note: For Eureka DMA, this could easily be accomplished in coordination with local PEG access community media available now]

In sum, we’d like assurances that Sinclair will address the unique needs and local interests of remote rural/micropolitan communities such as Humboldt County and the North Coast region.

Absentee ownership of communications infrastructure, such as this Sinclair/Bonten transaction, creates a real need for specific and locally enforceable public interest obligations. Lacking proper regulatory oversight, experience shows that Sinclair and other communication license holders will likely fail to deliver adequate service to meet local needs and community interests.

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