A bipartisan group of House lawmakers led by House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) introduced legislation Tuesday that would grandfather broadcast television joint sales agreements (JSAs) signed before the FCC’s March 31, 2014 ruling which classifies any JSA involving the sale of 15% or more of a TV station’s ad time to a competing local station as an attributable ownership interest.
Sponsored by Walden with the backing of Reps. John Shimkus (R-IL), Renee Ellmers (R-NC), Billy Long (R-MO), Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), Kurt Schrader (D-OR) and Paul Tonko (D-NY), the House bill mirrors similar legislation which was introduced by Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) in May and which passed the Senate Commerce Committee last month. 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 FCC’s order 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, and members of Congress also included provisions in the recently-enacted STELA Reauthorization Act of 2014 giving affected broadcasters six months beyond the FCC’s June 2016 deadline to unwind JSAs.
As Schrader argued that the FCC’s decision “risks causing serious economic harm to broadcasters who’ve made significant business decisions and investments under the previous rules,” Ellmers advised reporters that JSAs “have increased diversity and competition in the market and we should embrace that.” Welcoming the bill as one that “will allow local broadcasters to remain competitive,” National Association of Broadcasters CEO Gordon Smith said, “we look forward to working with the legislation’s cosponsors . . . toward successful passage.”