Lawmakers Urged To Cover Broadcasters In COVID-19 Relief

By Christopher Cole
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Law360 (July 16, 2020, 7:39 PM EDT) -- More than 50 state-level broadcast trade groups are urging congressional leaders to advance a bill to include certain radio and TV stations and newspaper publishers under the federal government's coronavirus rescue efforts, as tanking ad sales pummel the media sector.

The trade associations asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the minority leader in each chamber to include the provisions in an upcoming relief bill.

In a Wednesday letter signed by broadcast groups in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, the industry leaders maintained that the state of broadcasting is only declining as advertisers tighten their belts. The revenue drop couldn't come at a worse time given their role in informing the public, the groups said.

"Since the outset of the pandemic, local media outlets have been providing critical and essential services to their communities — working around the clock to ensure that their viewers, readers and listeners remain informed, connected and safe," the groups said.

"Unlike other businesses, who have had the option of temporarily closing their doors, local broadcasters and news publishers have maintained their operations, which have become more important than ever to their communities," they said.

"However, advertising is the lifeblood of these local media outlets, and news publishers, radio and television broadcasters rely on this revenue to maintain their services," according to the letter. Some local broadcasters have seen a drop of more than half compared to last year, while others have seen as much as 90% of their ad buys canceled, it states.

"Local broadcasters alone may see revenue losses of more than $14 billion this year, according to an industry analysis," the groups said. "Some local media outlets have been forced to furlough or eliminate their employees to remain open, and others have had to shutter their businesses permanently."

Identical bills by Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., would expand the Paycheck Protection Program, established to support small businesses in response to COVID-19, to include certain newspaper publishers, radio stations and television broadcasters.

According to a bill summary, such a media purveyor is eligible to receive a paycheck protection loan if several conditions are met.

The requirements are: The individual physical location that applies for the loan does not exceed Small Business Administration size standards (up to 1,000 employees for newspaper publishers and $41.5 million in gross receipts for radio and television broadcasters), and the proceeds of the loan are used to support the continued provision of local news, information, content, or emergency information.

A recipient "may not remit any portion of a paycheck protection loan to any entity other than the individual physical location" of the intended recipient, it states.

Wednesday's letter to House and Senate leaders calls the Paycheck Protection Program a "critical lifeline" for many smaller broadcaster and publishers but notes that many other local media organizations can't benefit because they are part of a larger business or ownership groups.

The provisions of the Cicilline bill, known as the Local News and Emergency Act, were included in the sweeping HEROES Act recently passed by the House.

Beyond providing coverage under the Paycheck Protection Program, the state-level broadcast groups urged lawmakers to include provisions in upcoming appropriations bills and COVID relief legislation that would direct U.S. government advertising campaigns to "fund and prioritize local media for the promotion of important federal priorities."

"The federal government can achieve important policy goals by providing direct and indirect support for advertising on local media, distributed across local media sectors and equitably allocated across large, medium and smaller communities," the trade groups said.

They also urged that any legislative efforts to provide economic stimulus to states, localities and businesses in upcoming COVID-19 relief legislation "include provisions that would prioritize and incentivize stimulus recipients to spend a portion of those funds on promotion through advertising on local media."

--Editing by Jay Jackson Jr.

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