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Congress must protect Arizona’s local news

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema has long understood the important role that local news plays in Arizona. She knows that, over the years, far too many Copper State newspapers and radio stations have ceased their operations, leading to many critical pieces of local community news getting glossed over or not receiving any coverage at all. That’s why she co-sponsored the bipartisan Local News and Emergency Information Act — to help save local news by making Arizona’s newspapers, radio, and television broadcasters eligible for coronavirus relief under the Paycheck Protection Program during this pandemic.  

In announcing her support for the bill, Sinema said that, “Arizona’s local newspapers, radio, and television broadcasters provide important information, emergency alerts, and more to Arizonans during the coronavirus pandemic and they need access to critical resources to continue these services.” Now, some of her Arizona colleagues in the House are taking her campaign to protect local news a step further with a resolution to safeguard local radio stations from new financial threats. 

The resolution, called the Local Radio Freedom Act, states that Congress won’t support any new proposals to increase the operating costs of local stations.  

Members understand the COVID-related troubles they face and want to protect their vitality. These representatives know that, without these broadcasters, the American people will lose access to critical emergency alerts, public health and safety news, and community care and support and that they must do everything in their power to keep them running smoothly and efficiently.  

Local broadcasters serve many indispensable functions in Arizona; however, none of them are more beneficial than their service to the state’s emergency operations.  

Natural disasters frequently abound in our state, from flash flooding to landslides to earthquakes. TVs and telephone signals often go out during emergencies, but radio signal has always remained resilient in Arizona thanks to the sturdy Emergency Operations Center Network that Emergency Management built in the state. The connection, powered by repeaters on nine mountain-top sites and checked weekly for functionality, can withstand just about anything.  

These local broadcasting stations are the most dependable and, in some cases, the only medium that residents have to hear critical public safety warnings and updates. The last thing politicians should do is make it even harder for them to continue operating in today’s unsteady economic climate.  

Hurricane Ida has shown the American people how essential local radio is. A recent article in The Washington Post discussed how they were a “source of hope” during the natural disaster. With nothing to power TV and many cell towers down, station crews slept overnight in their offices on air mattresses to accept calls from listeners in need and ensure the public stayed up to date with the emergency information it needed.  

Arizonians didn’t need Hurricane Ida to remind them of radio’s importance; current events have already made them well aware. Broadcasters have proven instrumental in alerting the public about the 500,000 acres of land burned in the more than 1,000 forest fires this year. With so much of rural Arizona still lacking broadband access and reliable cell service, local stations have without questioned play a vital, indispensable role in keeping the public informed. Imposing new licensing fees on these broadcasters that are part of the fabric of the local community would lead to all loss and no gain.  

Congress should be commended for carrying Sen. Sinema’s mantle of protecting local news by supporting the Local Radio Freedom Act. Let’s hope that the number of members standing up for local news continues to grow.
Richard Gottlieb, Arizona, is the former chairman and CEO of Lee Enterprises and chairman of the Newspaper Association of America. 

Editor’s note: Arizona News Service, which publishes the Arizona Capitol Times, Yellow Sheet Report and Legislative Report did not apply for nor receive any federal funds related to the Covid pandemic.  

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