T Dog’s Think Tank: What to expect from a Trump administration regarding media issues

donald-trump-victory-speech-ok-sign-600For those who don’t like media consolidation and love net neutrality – you are not going to like what you are about to read

In a Presidential contest people will be talking about for ages, Republican Donald J. Trump stunned everyone by winning the presidency in an upset over Democrat Hillary Clinton last week – sending shockwaves throughout the world.

The surprise outcome sent many wondering what’ll happen next – and a lot of soul-searching for those in the media who predicted a Clinton victory.

There will be changes as the country transitions from a President Obama administration to a Trump one. And every faucet of the media industry – from local stations to advertisers to network television to tech to the FCC – will be affected.

For starters, there is going to be significant change at the Federal Communications Commission, which has been dogged by partisan conflicts for the last three years. Current FCC Chairman and Democrat Tom Wheeler will likely have two choices: resign or be fired (can you imagine Trump dragging Wheeler to the Oval Office to tell him “you’re fired?”) Though he has hinted he would like to stay on as Chairman, having a boss like Trump would not suit him, and would not be following protocol since a FCC Chairman usually steps aside when there is a change in the White House. Heading up a short list on who would be replacing Wheeler would be current FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai – a Republican who has pushed back on many of Wheeler’s actions – and Jeff Eisenach, a conservative economist who basically is not a fan of any kind of media regulation.

If Wheeler wants to push his agenda through at the FCC, now is the time – proposals such as unlocking set-top boxes would not gain traction under a Trump-fortified FCC and would likely be scrapped. And with Republican control of the FCC imminent, look for net neutrality – which passed on a party line vote in 2015, to be rolled back or eliminated altogether.

Changes are a comin' at the FCC.
Changes are a comin’ at the FCC.

As I alluded to back in March, a Trump administration would likely push for the elimination of ownership limits and the cross-ownership rule (the newspaper and TV station in the same market rule.) Another is easing of limits on how many TV stations one can control in a market through joint-sales agreements, which were recently tightened. There is no doubt the television station community would welcome such regulation relief – many feel disrespected by the Obama Administration and the FCC over the last eight years, pushing them aside to focus on newer technologies. The last time where was a push to deregulate the industry (during Michael Powell’s time as chairman), the FCC was stymied by the courts.

While Trump did say he would oppose an AT&T/TimeWarner merger several weeks ago, don’t forget minds do quickly change in Washington – media mergers would face less scrutiny under a Trump administration than a Hillary Clinton one. But with both Republicans and Democrats coming together against the deal, the chance of the merger going forward is still questionable.

Also likely loosened under a Trump FCC are privacy provisions, pleasing ISPs (Internet Service Providers). Lifting regulations means your data won’t be as secure.

And look for a familiar issue to resurface…indecency. Although the issue has disappeared for the most part under the Obama Administration (with the FCC fining Liberman broadcasting and Roanoke Va.’s WDBJ notable exceptions), a crackdown on “fleeting profanity” – which we saw recently during coverage of anti-Trump protests over WGN-TV and WFLD-TV, may make more stations skittish about using live shots and could change the way these type of protests are covered. Despite Trump using harsh and inappropriate language at times – especially with women, it could be a victory for the Parents Television Council, a group who was instrumental in cracking down on indecency after the 2004 Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Certainly, a Trump presidency is bad news for Hollywood, despite Trump starring in one of the more successful reality series of all time, The Apprentice and its spin-off, Celebrity Apprentice. With a Republican-dominated FCC and a resurgent PTC, broadcast networks could pass on more racy and salacious projects, which could head to cable or streaming services – not good news as broadcast nets continue to battle eroding prime-time audiences. It is not known however, if the PTC’s push for a la carte cable would gain traction with a Trump administration – most cable and satellite companies are opposed to the idea and already offering slimmer packages.

These issues (and countless others) more or less have been buried by the news media – focusing instead of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail servers and Trump’s misbehavior. Unfortunately, the issue of media consolidation doesn’t seem to resonate with a lot of the public nowadays – for example, radio listeners have gotten used to corporate cutbacks and cost-cutting moves, such as the continued practices of “voice-tracking” and abandoning live and local programming for syndicated fare.

Finally, are we going to see more bad blood between members of the FCC? It depends on who will be on the commission once Trump enters office. Pai and fellow Republican commissioner Michael O’Rielly are likely to stay on, while all three current Democrats (Wheeler, Rosenworchel, and Migon Clyburn) are likely to depart – though the PTC is lobbying Congress on Rocenworchel to be re-nominated. The FCC will now have a 3-2 majority the other way and any spirited conflict taking place would depend on if Trump nominates Democrats who’ll fight for consumers – or appoints pushovers who’ll rollover like a dog.

Any way you look at it, here’s the bottom line: it’s going to be a long four years for media consolidation foes and consumer rights advocates.