FCC Nominee Pulled Into Newsmax Dispute With DirecTV

Federal Communications Commission nominee Gigi Sohn has indirectly entered the fray surrounding Newsmax’s public campaign to pressure DirecTV into returning to carrying the conservative political network.

DirecTV says that it dropped Newsmax on Jan. 24, when their carriage contract expired, based solely on Newsmax’s demand that DirecTV, which had previously paid nothing to carry the network, begin paying it “tens of millions” in licensing fees. The distributor —which added conservative network The First after it dropped Newsmax — says it has “a long history of supporting independent programming, including having been the first to carry Newsmax. It also says it is willing to continue good faith negotiations with Newsmax.

Newsmax, which asserts that DirecTV’s decision was based on trying to suppress conservative viewpoints, has been trying to get reinstated on DirecTV by recruiting Republican politicians and conservative influencers, including U.S. Jewish leaders, to exert pressure on DirecTV. Several other pay-TV operators also dropped Newsmax last year.



On Tuesday, during her third confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee this week, Sohn said that, while she does not know the facts or background behind the dispute, she believes that the FCC should investigate DirecTV’s decisions to stop carrying Newsmax as of last month and fellow right-wing One America News Network (OAN) last year.

Newsmax is touting Sohn’s comments as support for its stance. However, rather than alluding to or expressing support for Newsmax’s claim about bias against conservatives,  Sohn — nominated for a long-vacant FCC post by President Joe Biden — cited broader concerns about how large distributors may in some cases favor programmers that can supply bundles over independent programmers, using tactics such as “most-favored nation” contract clauses.

“Because [the FCC] has been so busy working on broadband, sometimes these important media consolidation issues get pushed by the wayside,” she said.

Sohn, a co-founder and former head of nonprofit Public Knowledge, which advocates for an open internet and access to affordable communications tools for all, pointed out that she has long worked to ensure that independent programmers — including Newsmax and OAN — are carried by large distributors.

DirecTV also cited concerns about costs that it would have to pass along to its subscribers in declining to renew OAN’s contract. Last month, a California judge upheld DirecTV’s right to end the OAN contract at expiration.   

While DirecTV uses radio spectrum for its satellite service licensed by the FCC, the FCC typically does not get involved in disputes involving non-broadcast programmers, according to The Desk.

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