Joint sales agreements (JSAs) that had been signed on or before March 31, 2014 between TV broadcasters in the same market would be grandfathered under bipartisan legislation introduced by Senate lawmakers on Monday. Authored by Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) and co-sponsored by Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Tim Scott (R-NC), the bill would reinstate JSAs that were signed on or before the FCC’s March 31, 2014 decision to deem as an attributable ownership interest any JSA that provides for the sale of 15% or more of a local TV station’s advertising time to an in-market competitor.
Defended by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler as a means of closing a potential legal loophole that could allow television broadcasters to circumvent media ownership limits, the agency’s ruling required broadcasters to unwind JSAs in effect at that time by June 19, 2016. The National Association of Broadcasters and other broadcast industry parties have since petitioned the courts to overturn the FCC’s ruling. In adopting the recently-enacted STELA Reauthorization Act, members of Congress also added bill provisions that give affected broadcasters six months beyond the FCC’s June 2016 deadline to unwind JSAs.
Consisting of a single paragraph, the bill states that JSAs in effect on the date of the FCC’s decision “shall not be considered to be in violation of the ownership limitations.” In remarks to the press, Blunt argued that JSAs “have helped save TV stations from going dark, increased program diversity, and enabled local news programming for many TV broadcasters.” Agreeing that “broadcasters who play by the rules should be able to trust that Washington won’t make rule changes apply retroactively in ways that harm their communities,” Mikulski declared that the measure “is about protecting our constituents’ access to local news, politics, cultural events and emergency notifications in their own states.” In a statement applauding the bill, the NAB noted that “broadcasters look forward to working closely with these congressional leaders to advance legislation that will help free and local broadcasters remain competitive.”