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FCC nominee wants DirecTV probed for dropping Newsmax

The Biden administration’s nominee for FCC commissioner Gigi Sohn says the federal regulator should scrutinize a recent decision by satellite broadcaster DirecTV to remove conservative-oriented news channels One America News Network (OAN) and Newsmax.

The affirmation came during a Senate confirmation hearing this week in which Sohn characterized the removals as “de-platforming,” a phrase that has been widely used by the parent companies of the two channels to describe DirecTV’s decision to remove them.

Earlier this year, DirecTV said its decision to pull Newsmax from its platform came after the channel’s owners demanded payment in exchange for the right to provide it to the satellite company’s subscribers. Previously, Newsmax allowed DirecTV to carry the station for free as part of a broader audience acquisition strategy.

Last year, DirecTV said the findings of an “internal review” convinced it to drop OAN, though it did not provide additional information about the review. DirecTV’s former parent company, AT&T, helped bankroll OAN’s launch. (DirecTV is now a separate business from AT&T, but is still majority-owned by the company.) Herring Networks has a pending lawsuit against DirecTV over the matter.

OAN and Newsmax both provide right-of-center commentary programming interspersed with some fact-based news bulletins. Each network has accused DirecTV of playing politics, noting that the company still offers channels with progressive programming like MSNBC and Vice TV.

Executives at DirecTV have refuted this notion. In recent weeks, the company signed on The First, a right-of-center channel that was previously only available on streaming platforms, in an attempt to appease conservative lawmakers and subscribers.

On Tuesday, Sohn said the FCC should take a closer look at DirecTV’s business decisions to drop OAN and Newsmax, but not necessarily for the same reasons as demanded by conservative lawmakers and the channels themselves.

Instead, Sohn said DirecTV’s decision to pull the channels was emblematic of a larger problem between pay television providers and distributors, one where programmers are able to offer “bundles” of channels intertwined with so-called “most-favored nation” clauses that can push out independent programmers like OAN and Newsmax.

“Because [the FCC] has been so busy working on broadband, sometimes these important media consolidation issues get pushed by the wayside,” Sohn said. “So I think this is an opportunity, the de-platforming of Newsmax, to look at the practices of bundling and most-favored nation clauses.”

It wasn’t immediately clear what regulatory or enforcement ability the FCC might have against a private distributor like DirecTV. While DirecTV does use radio spectrum that is licensed by the FCC for its satellite service, the federal agency typically doesn’t get involved in disputes that concern non-broadcast programmers.

Sohn’s confirmation hearing this week was her third for the vacant FCC commissioner slot. While she has broad bipartisan support — a rarity for any government official staring down a position as coveted as FCC commissioner — federal lawmakers have been deadlocked on her confirmation since she was first nominated by President Biden in 2021.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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