Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai made his case for why broadcasters need to become more like digital media companies, and promised they’ll be able to do so “without having to beg the FCC—this one or any future one—for permission.”
Pai made those comments, and touched on deregulation, during Tuesday’s “We Are Broadcasters” session at the 2019 NAB Show in Las Vegas.
“On the media ownership front, we have approved long overdue updates to our regulations” said Pai. “In particular, we scrapped the newspaper and broadcast cross-ownership rule. This prohibition might have made sense when it was adopted back in 1975, but it clearly had become an anachronism in the internet age.”
Pai made it clear that it’s time for a change. “When it comes to broadcasting issues, the FCC’s guiding principle under my leadership has been to make sure that our rules keep pace with the times,” he said. “Rest assured, we won’t be deterred by those whose regulatory views are not guided by facts and reason, but instead were set in stone in the era of Laverne & Shirley, of Starsky & Hutch, or The Captain & Tennille, if that’s your flavor.”
The chair said that broadcasters in 2019 should increasingly think of themselves as digital media companies, “with one small caveat: You are still broadcasters first.”
He explained, “Being a broadcaster means something different than just being a media company. It means something more. … This is a celebration of the characteristics of what you think define our industry. It’s the stations that go above and beyond to serve their communities. It’s the broadcasters that are there for their neighbors in time of emergency. It’s broadcast performers. And let’s not forget the broadcast engineers who do the important, behind-the-scenes technical work that allows your content to reach the masses.”
Pai later added, “broadcasters should and will be allowed to compete in a digital world and deliver consumer benefits without having to beg the FCC—this one or any future one—for permission,” a remark which earned him some of the loudest applause of the day.
In other topics, Pai discussed the importance of local journalism, citing the recent arrest of Empire’s Jussie Smollett as an example. “It was widely covered by cable news, national network news and digital outlets,” he said. “But who was at the forefront of breaking news about the story? Local television news reporters like Rafer Weigel of Fox 32 and Rob Elgas of ABC 7 in Chicago. Working hard on the ground, they were the ones getting to the bottom of what really happened while many other outlets were focused on editorializing and spin.”
It’s worth remembering that Pai was appointed to his role by President Trump, and he played a pivotal role in shutting down Sinclair Broadcasting Group’s proposed acquisition of Tribune Media due to “serious concerns” about Sinclair’s plan to divest certain local stations to companies with which it had ties.
But Pai doesn’t seem to support the president’s “fake news” narrative, at least not when it comes to local media.