ATVA: Individual Television Stations Do Not “Operate Independently” of Large Station Group Owners

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congress established the new Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) to provide relief to small businesses with fewer than 500 employees from suffering due to the coronavirus pandemic.  Broadcasters are seeking their own special exception to the program by changing the criteria to make each individual television station in the country its own “business.”  This would allow all television stations eligible to compete for funding against the small businesses that PPP was devised to help—even though most television stations are owned and operated by large, publicly traded companies like Hearst, Meredith Corporation, Nexstar, Sinclair, and TEGNA.

“Some who support this argue that even though stations are owned by larger groups, they ‘operate independently.’  Our members at ATVA know that this is just not true,” stated Jessica Kendust, ATVA spokesperson. “When ATVA’s cable, satellite, and telco members negotiate carriage agreements with stations owned by large station groups, they never deal with ‘independently operated’ stations.  They always deal with corporate headquarters.”

Under the law, a station cannot truly “operate independently” of its owner. The Communications Act prohibits the transfer of control of an FCC license without prior authorization. The FCC determines who “controls” a license by looking at who controls programming, personnel, and finances.  The ultimate owners of FCC licenses can delegate certain day to day operations to others, so long as they retain control with respect to these factors,  but a station cannot “operate independently” in any meaningful sense without making decisions about programming, personnel, and finances. 

Broadcasters also recently convinced the FCC to eliminate the “main studio rule,” which required stations to maintain a physical presence in their local communities.  So not only are affiliates not truly“independently operated” but many have no local news facilities at all.

“NAB is entitled to their own opinion, but they are not entitled to their own facts. There is nothing in the SBA PPP that prohibits a small business broadcaster from participating, and ATVA would never advocate against truly small business broadcasters’ eligibility for relief. Period. If you have less than 500 employees you are, and should be, eligible,” stated Kendust.  “However, the majority of ‘local’ stations are owned by parent media conglomerates and they should not get a special deal.”

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 The American Television Alliance (ATVA) brings together an unprecedented coalition of consumer groups, cable, satellite, telephone companies, and independent programmers to raise awareness about the risk TV viewers face as broadcasters increasingly threaten service disruptions that would deny viewers access to the programs they and their families enjoy.

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