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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

The Federal Communications Commission is fueling the war over media consolidation by opening the door to another deregulatory spree targeting rules that stop local broadcasters from merging.

Why it matters: The FCC may have killed the Sinclair-Tribune deal, but the overall trend is towards fewer owners for local news outlets — which are still vital sources of information for many Americans.

Details: The FCC voted last week to begin a legally-mandated review of the agency’s media ownership rules.

  • That includes asking whether the current rule — which bans a company from owning more than one of the top four stations in a market — “continues to foster competition, the stated primary goal of the rule, and thus should be retained or whether the promotion of localism or viewpoint diversity also provides justification for retaining the rule.” (Right now, you can own two stations in a market — but only one of the top four, unless the FCC waives the prohibition.)
  • It also asks for input on the necessity of a rule that two of the nation’s top four networks — NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox — can’t merge at the local level.

The big picture: The deregulation of the local media space has added more juice to an already merger-hungry market among broadcasters.

  • In an email, Paul Gallant, an analyst with Cowen Washington Research Group, said that getting rid of the prohibition on owning two of the top-four stations “would really improve the long term health of TV stations, especially in smaller markets.”

The other side: Opponents of media consolidation says it shrinks the number of voices from which consumers can get important local news and information.

  • Last year, the FCC decided to make it easier for the same person to own a broadcast station and a newspaper in the same market. It also removed a requirement that there be eight independently owned stations in any given market.
  • “We’re getting to a point where if they weaken it even further in small markets you could have one media voice across the board,” said Gigi Sohn, a top adviser to former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat.

Yes, but: Not included in the review is the overall cap on what percentage of the overall national audience a single company's network of stations can reach.

What’s next? The public will be able to submit comments on the FCC’s review — which doesn’t suggest any specific proposals — before the agency releases a final report. The agency could keep the rules the same, change them or eliminate them outright.

Go deeper

44 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Trump revokes ethics order barring former aides from lobbying

Photo: Spencer Platt via Getty

Shortly after pardoning members of Congress and lobbyists convicted on corruption charges, President Trump revoked an executive order barring former officials from lobbying for five years after leaving his administration.

Why it matters: The order, which was signed eight days after he took office, was an attempt to fulfill his campaign promise to “drain the swamp.”

  • But with less than 12 hours left in office, Trump has now removed those limitations on his own aides.

Trump pardons former fundraiser Elliott Broidy

President Trump has pardoned Elliott Broidy, a former top Republican fundraiser who pleaded guilty late last year to conspiring to violate foreign lobbying laws as part of a campaign to sway the administration on behalf of Chinese and Malaysian interests.

Why it matters: Broidy was a deputy finance chair for the Republican National Committee early in Trump’s presidency, and attempted to leverage his influence in the Trump administration on behalf of his clients. The president's decision to pardon Broidy represents one last favor for a prominent political ally.

Trump grants flurry of last-minute pardons

Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

President Trump issued 73 pardons and commuted the sentences of 70 individuals, hours from leaving office early Wednesday, hours from leaving office.

Why it matters: It's a last-minute gift to some of the president's loyalists and an evident use of executive power with only hours left of his presidency. Axios reported in December that Trump planned to grant pardons to "every person who ever talked to me."