I believe in the power of local news. The strengthening of American democracy depends on more engaged and informed citizens at the local level. But in today’s fractured media environment, there are fewer credible options consumers can turn to for their news. Local news can help fill this void.
My company, Standard General, is acquiring local television station TEGNA because I want to build a new company that is a leader in preserving and improving community news, investing in newsrooms and programming targeted to local audiences, and adapting to a rapidly changing technical and competitive environment. atmosphere.
We are ready to invest, but the regulators in Washington continue to hold us back.
The Federal Communications Commission’s Office of Media recently announced that it would refer the proposed transaction between Standard General and TEGNA for review by an administrative law judge.
This seemingly mundane regulatory action is an unprecedented overreach of authority that, if allowed to go unchallenged, effectively blocks our purchase. Therefore, any prospective applicant seeking to acquire TEGNA or any other television station must be acceptable to the media office in its sole, absolute and unrestricted discretion. Since the media bureau traditionally reports to the FCC chairman, this completely misses the purpose of a bipartisan commission whose members are confirmed by the US Senate and leaves the other Democratic and Republican commissioners mere bystanders. .
In fact, this is the first time that the FCC has acted through the media bureau in a manner designed to cancel a pending transaction without reference to a single rule or regulation that the transaction might violate and without any consideration of the conditions that they would address any outstanding concerns. It’s also the first time the FCC has acted to kill a TV merger without a vote of the full commission.
Furthermore, this will change the agency’s public interest standard by restricting investment and ownership of broad swaths of the economy to those deemed acceptable by regulators armed with this new precedent. The plan for Standard General to acquire TEGNA presumed careful review by the Department of Justice and the FCC, but we had no reason to doubt final approval given that we were buying an existing company that got smaller due to a couple of initial divestitures. .
While having some public objectors is not uncommon, we were surprised by the level of virulence and vague accusations about “foreign influence,” even though I am a US citizen and my company is based in the US. The attorney of the NewsGuild-CWA union blatantly said that the agreement “does not promote diversity of ownership as understood by the public interest and civil rights community,” implying that Asian Americans are not included in the concept of diversity.
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However, we trusted the system and were sure that we had followed all the rules and precedents. Our faith was tested as a review that was expected to last six months and stretched out to nearly a year. The usual public comment period was an unprecedented three rounds.
During this time, we have repeatedly tried, but with little success, to engage the FCC and its media office to obtain feedback on our responses to the petitioners’ concerns. They made us believe that there was nothing to discuss.
Then, without warning, the hammer fell: the media office ordered an administrative hearing, pushing the process past the May 22 final deal date and scuttling it without even a vote without a clear resource.
The media bureau said the administrative law judge needs to review additional evidence related to possible impacts on jobs and consumer prices. Yet the parties have already turned over millions of pages of evidence, sat through hours of depositions, responded to all legal and factual comments and inquiries, and offered concrete commitments to address these very issues.
Simply put, the media bureau is being allowed to scuttle this deal because they don’t seem to think I should be the owner of these stations. Who knows why? And therein lies the danger. By arbitrarily defining the public interest, the media bureau has effectively become judge and jury. This issue deserves increased public attention and scrutiny, and our agreement deserves a full committee vote on its merits.
If this result holds, it is impossible to know where it ends.
Kim is a Managing Partner and Chief Investment Officer at Standard General.