At a time when citizens need more and more-reliable sources of information, the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to abolish a regulation requiring TV and radio stations to have local broadcast studios will ensure just the opposite.

The so-called “main studio rule” was put in place to encourage interaction between the people who watch or listen to the news and the people who put it on the air. The goal was to allow local concerns and local feedback to shape local news decisions.

With viewers and listeners now able to contact stations via email and social media, the rule has become obsolete, say those who successfully pushed for its elimination last month. Their other argument: That the decision will save broadcasters money that now can be channeled into local programming.

But don’t be fooled by the official-sounding verbiage — this is essentially a very early Christmas gift to companies like the Sinclair Broadcast Group. Known for distributing conservative commentary on a “must-run” basis to its 173 local TVstations, Sinclair is awaiting FCC approval of a deal that would allow its stations to reach about 72 percent of U.S. households.

With such reach, and the touted savings from no longer having to maintain local studios, Sinclair could do a lot to beef up its local programming. But that’s not likely. Sinclair is known for a penny-pinching approach to its news operations and is experimenting with outsourcing: It laid off half the reporters at its NBC affiliate in Toledo, Ohio, in 2016, shifting production to a centralized studio at its ABC affiliate in South Bend, Indiana.

“Anyone who understands how these big media companies operate can see the danger,” Christopher Ruddy, CEO of the conservative website Newsmax, wrote in a recent Washington Post op-ed. “By owning local stations, the New York-based media networks could dictate local news coverage. With the planned elimination of the local studio rule, they will have a green light to do so.”

His concerns are echoed on the left, with Dana Floberg of the consumer advocacy group Free Press warning that the FCC “has blasted open a path for conglomerates like Sinclair to move even more resources — including broadcast facilities and staff — away from underserved communities.”

This is particularly harmful in rural states such as Maine, where access to news online is hampered by the poor quality and uneven availability of broadband and data caps on smartphones. By abolishing the main studio rule, the FCC is enabling broadcasters to pull away from the cities and towns they’re supposed to serve and forcing citizens to make do with homogenized and slanted programming that does nothing to keep them informed about their communities.

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