It’s not just broadcasters assessing what a Trump administration will mean for media policy at the Federal Communications Commission. So too are civil rights groups who fear their efforts to increase media diversity and press broadcasters will be even more challenging.
Many Washington insiders expect the Trump administration will initially take steps to reverse several policies adopted by the FCC during President Obama’s term. Free Press, which has been a longtime critic of media consolidation among other issues, says it plans to “oppose rollbacks” proposed by a Republican-controlled Commission. “We will fight back,” Free Press tells supporters in a Facebook post. “We will fight for internet freedom. We will fight to replace the failing media with better, deeper reporting in your community,” the message adds.
Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC) cofounder David Honig says his group is nonpartisan and has counted on support from both political parties through the years. “We pride ourselves for being able to work with FCC commissioners and chairs of both parties—so we think there is going to be room to work with whoever is chair,” he says. “There are obviously issues regardless of who is chair that we will disagree but that’s our job.” A critical indicator for Honig will come in the Trump nomination process. “From our vantage point a lot depends on who they select as chair,” he says. Beltway speculation this week is that Trump won’t opt for an outsider but will instead tap current commissioner Ajit Pai to lead the agency. “I think he would be an excellent chair,” Honig says, pointing out that Pai has been a champion of AM radio and relaxing foreign ownership rules while at the same time speaking about the importance of diversity.
Activists were encouraged when Trump was critical last month of the consolidation that AT&T’s proposed buyout of Time Warner would bring, but Honig isn’t convinced the new President will reject efforts to allow more media consolidation. “What he said was during an election campaign about a particular deal; words from a candidate who didn’t have anything up on his website about communications policy,” Honig says. “For all we know that could have been he didn’t like certain anchors on CNN. You can’t really read into it that he’s given any thought about vertical integration and what that does to new entrants to innovation. That’s a policy question that he may not have studied or talked with experts about.”
Civil rights leaders have been concerned about a Trump administration for months because of what they’ve viewed as the racially hostile statements made by the billionaire during the campaign. But Honig says the President-elect has also pledged he won’t overlook communities of color. “We, like all civil rights organizations, are going to try to hold him to those statements,” Honig says.
Yet the advocacy groups may have reason to worry that the FCC’s agenda will tilt in a direction not to their liking. Attorney David Oxenford says a Republican administration may also require broadcasters to adjust their thinking and strategies related to several issues. “One would certainly expect a lessening of the regulatory burden on broadcasters—as lessening burdensome regulations on businesses was a clear plank of the Trump agenda,” he says. Oxenford writes in a blog post that other paperwork requirements could also be abolished such as the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) requirements and public file obligations. “Question marks for broadcasters include antitrust policy, where candidate Trump has indicated some concern with businesses, including those in the media space, from getting bigger,” Oxenford says. He thinks the National Association of Broadcasters may even go so far as to abandon any legal challenges to the FCC’s media ownership rules if there was an indication the new Republican-controlled Commission was set on a course to see things differently.
For now, NAB president Gordon Smith says he doesn’t hear any “alarm bells” going off for broadcasters. “We look forward to working with the next administration in support of a pro-innovation and regulatory reform agenda that will allow local broadcasting to flourish and reach every viewer and listener, anywhere and anytime,” Smith says in a statement.