Nov 30, 2021 - Technology

Conservative media at odds over Biden's FCC pick

Photo illustration of a retro television set showing Gigi Sohn's image in distortion and static

Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

In an unexpected twist, two conservative news networks — Newsmax and One America News Network— have come out in support of President Biden's progressive Federal Communications Commission (FCC) nominee Gigi Sohn, despite a broad conservative consensus against her.

Why it matters: If Sohn is confirmed, her appointment would give Democrats the majority they need to rewrite regulations for the communications sector. Some high-profile conservatives argue that could result in "censorship" against them.

  • The Wall Street Journal's editorial board alleged earlier this month that Sohn "favors deploying the agency’s regulatory power to shackle broadband providers and silence conservative voices."
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called Sohn "a complete political ideologue who has disdain for conservatives" and has vowed to do everything in his power to reject her nomination.

Between the lines: Sohn was on the same side as both Newsmax and OAN in opposing the Sinclair-Tribune deal. Smaller conservative networks have more to gain from Sohn's record favoring independent programmers.

State of play: Sohn will face the Senate Commerce Committee for her confirmation hearing Wednesday, where committee members also will vote on Jessica Rosenworcel's nomination to be the permanent chairwoman.

  • The broadcast industry said Monday via a statement from its trade group that while it doesn't oppose Sohn's nomination, it has serious concerns about her involvement with now defunct streaming service Locast.
  • The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) "requests that Ms. Sohn submit an amended ethics agreement that meaningfully and effectively addresses this clear and troubling conflict," the group said in a statement.

Catch up quick: Sohn was a board member for Locast, a short-lived app that streamed over-the-air TV until the major broadcast networks successfully sued to stop the service.

  • In Sohn's ethics agreement, she said if confirmed, she would resign from Sports Fans Coalition NY, which operated Locast, and not participate in any matter involving the entity for one year.

The intrigue: Sources say NAB wants Sohn to recuse herself from matters before the agency involving broadcasters.

  • Fox did not respond to a request for comment about Sohn's nomination, but presumably the network is aligned with its broader cohort of broadcasters on the issue.
  • Sinclair is trying to play both sides, which is notable given how outspoken Sohn was about the company's behavior during its failed merger with Tribune in 2018.

What they're saying: In a statement, a Sinclair spokesperson told Axios, "We believe that all FCC commissioners should be attentive to the changing media environment and the impact that it has on all companies, without bias."

  • "If Ms. Sohn is confirmed, we look forward to working with her, and the other commissioners, on finding solutions to the growing competition that broadcasters face from Big Tech and other industries to find alternatives to strengthen the broadcasting industry and the important role it provides for local communities.”

Be smart: It's one thing for conservative critics to come out swinging against Sohn. It's another for the broadcast networks that will be governed by the FCC's regulations to do the same.

Meanwhile, Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy said Monday he supports both of Biden's choices for the FCC. OAN President Charles Herring also has endorsed Sohn for the FCC slot.

  • "Increasingly, independently operated cable news channels like Newsmax are being sidelined in favor of a small number of mega-corporations who dominate the channel line-ups, forcing upon consumers expensive and little-watched networks," Ruddy said in the statement. "It’s bad for the public interest and dangerous for democracy.
  • "While I don't always agree with the nominees on many policy matters, Newsmax fully supports the Commission's mandate to promote diversity, localism and competition in the marketplace. Newsmax believes both nominees are committed to that mandate."
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