FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai seeks peace with broadcasters

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai extended an olive branch to broadcasters.
(AFP/Getty Images)

Tensions between broadcasters and the Federal Communications Commission have gotten so high that FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai wonders “if it’s time to call Dr. Phil and see if he is available to mediate.”

Broadcasters are upset with some recent FCC moves, including imposing tougher regulations on business partnerships between local TV stations. Last month, National Assn. of Broadcasters President Gordon Smith suggested that the FCC views the television industry as a dinosaur that needs to be put out of business.

In a speech to the Pennsylvania Assn. of Broadcasters on Monday, Pai extended an olive branch to the industry, saying, “Every segment of the industry we regulate should have confidence that the Commission will give them a fair hearing, and none should be under the impression that the FCC is out to get them.”


Pai, a Republican, is seen as a closer ally to broadcasters than FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. In his speech, Pai said it is critical that broadcasters be treated fairly in the upcoming spectrum auction. Broadcasters have been asked to voluntarily give up some of their airwaves so they can be auctioned off to wireless companies.

Many broadcasters have expressed a reluctance to participate in the voluntary auction and fear that the FCC may just eventually take their spectrum to sell to wireless firms.

Broadcasters that do not take part in the auction still may have to relocate their channel frequency.

“We must preserve a vibrant, free, over-the-air television service,” Pai said.

In his speech, Pai also advocated removing rules that prohibit a broadcaster from also owning a local newspaper in the same market.

“In this day and age, if you want to operate a newspaper, we should be thanking you, not throwing batteries at you,” Pai said.

Some broadcasters do own local newspapers, including Los Angeles Times parent Tribune Co., which owns KTLA-TV here. Tribune has a wavier to operate both properties.

Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.