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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 25, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 39
The end of local TV?
Corporate media giant wants to gut KING 5
Section One
ALL STORIES
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The end of local TV?
Corporate media giant wants to gut KING 5

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Tegna - the broadcasting arm of the monster newspaper publisher Gannett Company - wants to make changes at KING 5 TV that could mean the end of local news coverage, KING 5 employees say.

KING 5 workers and the three unions that represent them - SAG-AFTRA for on-air reporters, IATSE for photographers and editors, and IBEW for engineers and tech people - explained their precarious situation at a September 23 forum at UW's Meany Hall.

Gannett, which owns USA Today and 11 other newspapers, bought Belo Broadcasting and its 23 TV stations, including KING 5 and KGW in Portland, in 2013. This year, Gannett created Tegna Inc. to manage its broadcasting assets, which are now much more profitable than its newspapers.

Acquisition by Gannett brought immediate changes to KING 5, none of them positive, employees said.

First, Gannett cancelled the station's contract with CNN, depriving KING 5 viewers of a leading international video news source.

Second, and more ominously for employees, Gannett cut employee health care benefits, raising the deductible to $5,000 and also raising the premiums employees had to pay. In other words, KING 5 employees now pay more for less, and have to pay $5,000 out of pocket before their health insurance kicks in.

Even worse from the employees' point of view is that management is proposing a 'non-exclusive jurisdictional contract.' That's fancy language for taking away union protections from KING 5 employees and allowing Gannett/Tegna to hire non-union folks to do work that previously was done by union professionals.

'These changes will make [KING 5] a Walmart TV station,' IATSE spokesperson Dave Twedell said. 'They are leading many of our number to look for work elsewhere.'

Seattle City Council members Kshama Sawant and Nick Licata also spoke, promising to support a resolution the unions want the Council to pass.

'Your struggle is in no way isolated,' Sawant told the gathering. 'It's happening in society everywhere. There's a concerted effort to break the back of unions in a number of professions.'

Spectrum speculators
Twedell charged that Gannett 'has no real interest in KING 5 and KGW as local TV stations.' Instead, he said, the media giant wants to sell off some or all of its federally licensed broadcast frequency to the highest bidder.

Next spring the FCC, the federal agency charged with regulating the broadcast industry, will conduct what is called a 'broadcast spectrum auction,' in which every broadcast station may sell off its frequencies.

The Consumer Electronics Association estimates that the current value of broadcast spectrum is some $62 million, but that value could jump to $1 trillion dollars if the frequencies were converted to wireless media.

'This means that the frequency allocated to broadcast TV is an order of magnitude more valuable to broadband providers than it is to TV station owners,' Twedell said, and therefore Gannett has every incentive to get out of the TV business altogether and sell its assets to a broadband provider.

'If the TV frequency is going to go to something else, what will take the place of local TV?' Twedell asked, and where will TV employees go to find equivalent middle class jobs?

Not our $1 trillion
'It's horrifying to hear that there's $1 trillion in this, but somehow it's not our $1 trillion,' Martin Luther King County Labor Council Executive Secretary Nicole Grant told the forum. '[Gannett's] goal is to take every last cent out of the situation and hoard it at the top.'

The airwaves are public property, Grant noted - 'our property!' - and not merely licensed to broadcasters. She compared privatization of the broadcast spectrum to the 2012 privatization of Washington state liquor stores.

'Sure, we get sales taxes from the private stores,' she said, 'but before we got the taxes and the profits from the sales.'

Grant promised that the labor movement in King County, which she heads, would support the three unions at KING 5 and fight for 'professionalism in the industry.'

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