Friday, August 8, 2014

Shared Services Agreements Reduce Media Diversity, Cost Jobs, and Make an End Run Around the FCC’s Media Ownership Limits

In formal comments filed this week, the Communications Workers of America, including NABET-CWA and the Newspaper Guild-CWA, called on the Federal Communications Commission to immediately direct broadcasters to disclose all radio and television shared service agreements (SSAs) and to rule that all sharing agreements create attributable ownership interests that must be counted in evaluating compliance with the FCC’s local broadcast ownership limits. CWA filed its comments in the Quadrennial Regulatory Review of the Commission’s Broadcast Ownership Rules.

Read the full filing here.

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“The Commission should immediately direct broadcasters to disclose all radio and television sharing agreements, by whatever name. Disclosure is long overdue,” CWA said. That means that any kind of joint agreement, whether classified as a shared services agreement or other agreement, must be reported and monitored, CWA said.

Even without comprehensive data, it is clear that SSAs are pervasive and damaging to the Commission’s goals to promote localism, diversity, competition, and to prevent undue concentration of economic power in the media. Shared service agreements allow one TV station to provide station-related services – including programming services – to one or more other TV stations.

“These mechanisms are used to evade the Commission’s local television ownership rules and newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rules,” CWA said.

These shared service agreements destroy good jobs and affect diversity in programming. “In many cases SSAs involve the complete shutdown of news on one station. In other cases, the same staff produced two highly similar newscasts,” CWA said.

This is taking place in city after city. CWA’s comments provided many examples, including the following:
  • Tucson, AZ. Belo and Raycom established a “virtual triopoloy,” with KSMB anchor Lou Raguse telling his viewers: “Raycom will produce this newscast on Fox 11 as well as a two-hour morning newscast. [I]t means that all the news, sports, engineering and production people here at Fox 11 are out of a job… “
  • Syracuse, NY. Barrington Broadcasting (now Nexstar) took over operations of Granite Broadcasting’s WTVH, creating a triopoly. As a result of the new shared services agreement, 40 workers at WTVH lost their jobs, including the entire news staff of on-air reporters, anchors, newswriters, producers, news photographers, editors and broadcast technicians. WTVH’s former studios were put up for sale.
  • Honolulu, Hawaii. Raycom Media, which already owned and operated two stations, has swapped call-signs and network affiliations in its takeover of a third station, KFVE. (Raycom’s alter ego, American Spirit, has applied to purchase KFVE outright.) Raycom now produced substantially identical newscasts for all three stations. Nearly 70 employees between the three stations have lost their jobs.
  • Erie, PA. Lilly Broadcasting, which owns WSEE, took over operations of WICU, nominally licensed to SJL Broadcasting. In 2009, it merged all WSEE operations into WICU, eliminating all 35 off-air WSEE employees. Because the combined facilities lacked the capacity to simulcast, for at least four years, news programming on WSEE was prerecorded. This loss of immediacy created serious losses for viewers. For example, the 6 am newscast was pre-taped at 4 am, meaning that viewers could not hear current weather conditions.
These sharing agreements, CWA said, “are antithetical to the Commission’s goals of promoting localism, competition and diversity in the media.”

CWA also reiterated its support for the Commission’s longstanding rules as the best way to achieve its policy goals and called on the FCC to maintain the current rules governing local television ownership, local radio ownership, the newspaper/broadcast cross ownership ban, and dual network provisions.


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