Rehr to Congress: Guard against importation of duplicative programming into local markets

Congress should take no steps — in particular, authorizing out-of-market TV signals into local markets — that would further threaten the financial stability of local TV stations and their ability to produce and deliver local news, David Rehr, outgoing NAB president and CEO, said in a letter dated May 5 to a Senate subcommittee.

Rehr, who made a surprise announcement of his resignation May 6, sent the letter to Sens. John Kerry, D-MA, and John Ensign, R-NV, chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet. The subcommittee last week held hearings on the future of the news media.

In the letter, Rehr said Congress should avoid changing laws that would let satellite, cable or other multichannel program providers import out-of-market stations into local markets. Authorizing such a move “would inadvertently undermine the ability of broadcast stations to serve their communities,” the letter said.

Competition today in the media marketplace is “relentless,” Rehr wrote. An “explosion of media outlets” and rapid advancements in technology are creating a “challenging economic environment” for the production of “quality news and information,” the letter said.

Pointing to the ongoing recession, Rehr told the committee the nation’s economic crisis “has only exacerbated the difficulties” facing broadcast stations, which have seen double-digit declines in ad revenue. These declines “threaten to undermine the ability of television and radio stations to offer locally oriented services, including costly services such as local news,” the letter said.

“Obviously, in today’s very difficult economic environment, there should be no changes in law and regulation that would further undermine the financial viability of local broadcast outlets,” the letter said.

Congressional approval of changes allowing “indiscriminate importation of duplicative programming from out-of-market stations” would disrupt the existing structure of the TV market, Rehr said in the letter.

Allowing importation of duplicative network and syndicated programming “would undermine the local, home-market stations’ ability to attract viewers and advertisers,” Rehr said. As a result, local TV stations would have fewer resources to produce local news, public affairs content, weather alerts and emergency information, Rehr wrote.