FCC Bears Down on Stations With JSAs

FCC Bears Down on Stations With JSAs

Federal regulations are rumbling down the line that may disrupt the management of some of Little Rock’s TV stations.

The Federal Communications Commission is giving TV stations two years to sort out joint sales agreements that allow companies to own two stations in small or medium markets.

In theory, a single company can’t own more than 50 percent of the TV stations in a market. But sometimes companies, such as Nexstar Broadcasting of Irving, Texas, and Mission Broadcasting of Westlake, Ohio, join forces to get around the regulations.

In Little Rock, for example, Mission owns KLRT-TV, Channel 16 and KASN-TV, Channel 38; Nexstar owns KARK-TV, Channel, 4, and KARZ-TV, Channel 42.

Some staff is shared between the two groups of stations; last year KARK and KLRT laid off about 30 employees, with the two news stations consolidating the remaining jobs between each other.

Nexstar and Mission have similar setups in markets all over the country.

Now, FCC Chair Tom Wheeler, who was appointed less than a year ago, has decided to come down on these types of setups, claiming that they are harming competition and diversity.

A spokeswoman for Nexstar told Outtakes that the company “can’t give any guidance on the issue” until the FCC sets the new regulations in stone. Until then it’s “business as usual.”

But it’s no secret that the FCC’s plans aren’t popular in the broadcasting world.

“The confusing thing from the broadcasters’ point of view is that, for the past 10 years or so, these types of agreements have been blessed by the FCC,” said Doug Krile, executive director of the Arkansas Broadcasters Association. “Then all of a sudden, we’re under a new commissioner, Mr. Wheeler, who doesn’t believe they should be blessed. He wants to unravel many of them unless they can improve.”

“Improving” means ensuring that stations with joint sales agreements remain distinct and maintain locality.

But Krile said that if some of the stations under JSAs are suddenly forced to operate independently, they could find themselves unable to compete.

“It probably wouldn’t happen here, but in some markets, the lesser of the stations — which would be like Fox in Little Rock — might not be able to do news if they’re a standalone operation,” he said.

TV stations argue that the JSAs, despite consolidating ownership, still allow for individual voices among stations.

“The FCC comes back and says, ‘Well, yeah, there are two newscasts, and two different stations, but it’s really the same reporters and producers,’” Krile said. “That is true to some degree.”

Still, Krile said, the JSA issue is really symptomatic of a bigger issue: The current national broadcast plan needs updating.

“We need to go back and rewrite the communications law,” he said. “There are ways to do it. I think this is just symptomatic of some bigger regulatory issues in the industry. We’ve gotten left behind. Things have changed so rapidly that these laws aren’t any good anymore.”