During a truncated House Communications Subcommittee hearing that was cut short after 20 minutes to accommodate a series of votes on the House floor, ranking subcommittee member Anna Eshoo (D-CA) targeted Republican efforts to attach a rider to the omnibus budget bill that would permanently grandfather broadcast joint sales agreements (JSAs) in existence at the time the FCC adopted rules 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. Disagreeing with claims that JSAs boost diversity in broadcast station ownership, Eshoo voiced her “deep concern with any effort through the appropriations process that would seriously undermine the FCC’s media ownership rules.”
When the FCC adopted the JSA attribution rule in March 2014, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler defended the decision as one that closes a potential legal loophole that could allow television broadcasters to circumvent media ownership limits. Broadcasters and their supporters contend, however, that JSAs promote ownership diversity and competition by allowing broadcasters to cut their advertising costs. The National Association of Broadcasters has asked the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the JSA order, and legislation is pending in both chambers of Congress that would exempt existing JSAs from the FCC’s attribution requirements.
In testimony prepared for yesterday’s hearing, Eshoo highlighted the bipartisan agreement that lawmakers reached last year to add language to the STELA Reauthorization Act (STELARA) that mitigates the effects of the attribution rule by adding six months to the FCC’s original June 2016 deadline for unwinding JSAs. As she stressed that “the issue of JSAs was actively debated in our subcommittee last year,” Eshoo took issue with “reports that the appropriations process could be used as a way to overturn the FCC’s action and gut the agreement we reached” in STELARA.