A pair of congressmen on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee want to repeal a long-standing ban on media consolidation, calling it a “disco era” rule that prevents struggling local media outlets from surviving in an increasingly competitive market for information.
Introduced by Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), the legislation takes aim at a 41-year-old rule that prohibits a company from owning both a newspaper and a radio or television station in the same market.
Undoing the ban on cross-ownership, Yarmuth argues, would help combat the rise of fabricated stories on the Internet by empowering trusted local news outlets.
“It is increasingly important that we do all we can to protect legitimate sources of news,” Yarmuth said in a statement. “This legislation would give media entities the flexibility they need to compete and grow.”
The National Association of Broadcasters praised the move.
“Striking this cross-ownership ban would save journalism jobs, create more investigative reporting and provide communities with greater local news,” said Gordon Smith, the organization's president.
Many media organizations have come under growing financial pressure with the advent of Internet distribution channels, prompting some to consolidate. The pay-TV industry has responded to the trend with mega-mergers that combine distribution companies with content warehouses, giving them the ability to charge consumers for exclusive access or to license that content to other distributors for fees.
Critics of this consolidation have included President-elect Donald Trump, who during his campaign lashed out at the proposed deal to combine AT&T with media titan Time Warner.
“It's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few,” said Trump, who has vowed to block the acquisition in office.
Repealing the ban is necessary to help smaller voices stay economically competitive, according to proponents. But critics of consolidation, such as Trump, have worried that the trend could lead to the crowding out of conservative voices.
Trump's previously stated opposition to media consolidation raises questions about his position on the bill from Walden and Yarmuth. Although the media cross-ownership ban applies only to ownership of newspapers and broadcast media, not cable, the walls that have traditionally divided these companies into silos are rapidly collapsing.
A spokesperson for Trump did not respond to a request for comment.