Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the powerful Senate Commerce Committee, wants the Federal Communications Commission to hold off on approving any big television deals until a report on consolidation in the broadcasting industry is released.
A frequent critic of media consolidation, Rockefeller recently asked the Government Accountability Office to study the growth of so-called "shared service agreements," which is basically when one broadcast station in a market operates another station that it does not technically own.
Media watchdogs contend that some broadcasters, such as Baltimore-based Sinclair Broadcast Group, use shared service agreements to get around FCC rules limiting the number of TV stations one company can own in a particular market.
In a letter to new FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, Rockefeller wrote, "given the current questions about the impact of SSAs on the broadcast landscape, the FCC should approach each of the pending transactions cautiously."
Although Rockefeller did not mention any specific companies or deals he is concerned about, Sinclair has acquisitions pending at the FCC that include shared service agreements. The Belo-Gannett deal, which is also awaiting approval, includes such agreements.
Rockefeller concluded his letter to Wheeler by saying, "I will be watching your actions closely to make sure that your review of media ownership activity properly comports with diversity, localism, and ultimately the public interest."
Free Press, an advocacy group that has been critical of shared service agreements, praised Rockefeller's letter.
"We're thrilled that Senator Rockefeller is calling attention to this issue," said Matt Wood, policy director of Free Press. "Fake owners shouldn't hold real broadcast licenses. For too long the FCC has turned a blind eye while broadcasters have grown their empires at the expense of local viewers."
Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.
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