FCC Votes To Save TV News Jobs
April 7, 2014
Leading union activists representing broadcasting employees cheered a move that will help promote diversity in local media markets while saving jobs.
The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 March 31 to restrict so-called joint sales agreements, a practice that has allowed large media conglomerates to effectively swallow up smaller stations in the same market.
Prior to the vote, a large company could enter into an agreement with a smaller station to share and streamline resources. By using the same ad revenue and newsroom infrastructure, the two stations would combine content to deliver essentially the same product to viewers of both stations.
Supporters of the practice say it allows newsrooms with lower budgets to share content and simplify the news reporting process.
But critics – including the IBEW and the Communications Workers of America, among others – have contended that it destroys jobs in a rapidly changing industry, while watering down content and creating a dearth of independent community voices that receive airtime.
Fortunately for TV news professionals, the FCC saw it that way, too. Under the new rules, a large broadcasting company that sells more than 15 percent of ads for a smaller station in the same market will now be considered to have an ownership stake in the station – which could violate FCC rules.
With less consolidation comes a greater number of voices on the news, and that means jobs.
“After all, when two or more stations combine, employees at one of the stations are no longer needed,” wrote Jim Joyce, president of the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians/CWA, in a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler ahead of the vote. Wheeler voted with the majority to curb the joint sales agreements.
Such agreements have affected hundreds of union jobs, as consolidated stations lay off directors, photographers, editors, engineers, truck operators and more.
“When there are fewer newsrooms, jobs are cut, normally leaving fewer opportunities for all journalists to find work,” wrote Bob Butler, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, in a March 6 blog post. “Viewers for the different stations get the same news delivered by the same people, limiting the opportunity to hear different viewpoints. For those who work in these newly ‘shared’ newsrooms, there is more work and less time for in-depth or investigative reporting.”
Media watchdogs have said the joint sales agreements have allowed powerful companies “to dodge the FCC’s ownership rules and grow their empires at the public’s expense,” Craig Aaron, president of the advocacy group Free Press, told Truth-Out.org. “And for too long the agency has looked the other way as these companies have dominated the airwaves.”
IBEW International President Edwin D. Hill praised the FCC’s vote. “In the marketplace of ideas, more diverse voices are better than just a few. By limiting these service agreements, the commission is standing up for strong journalism, a variety of perspectives and good American jobs. Thank you for voting to help do away with these job-killing practices.”
The IBEW represents more than 10,000 members in the broadcasting industry who work for major networks and local affiliates throughout the U.S. and Canada.