Merkley, Colleagues Make Bipartisan Push to Support Local Media During COVID-19 Crisis

Merkley, Colleagues Make Bipartisan Push to Support Local Media During COVID-19 Crisis

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley is joining with a bipartisan group of 74 senators in calling for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Acting Director Russell Vought to support radio and television broadcasters and local newspapers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter to Vought, the senators wrote, “Our radio and television broadcasters and rural newspapers provide local and national news, emergency alerts, educational programs, and more to all corners of the United States. In many rural areas, broadcast stations are the predominant or only form of local information. It is important that local media are able to continue to provide their services during the COVID-19 pandemic so that Americans are able to stay up to date with the latest news and information.”

The senators noted that local news outlets have been hit particularly hard by a loss of advertising revenue, and urged OMB to work with partner agencies throughout the government to disseminate key public health messages through local news advertising during this crisis. This would have the dual benefit of reaching Americans with important health information in their local news outlets, while also helping to ensure that local news outlets can continue to operate throughout the crisis.

The letter can be read in full below or viewed here.

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Dear Mr. Vought,

We are writing today concerning the challenges faced by local media and actions the Office of Management and Budget can take that will help ensure these important businesses are able to continue to operate throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.  Our radio and television broadcasters and rural newspapers provide local and national news, emergency alerts, educational programs, and more to all corners of the United States. In many rural areas, broadcast stations are the predominant or only form of local information. It is important that local media are able to continue to provide their services during the COVID-19 pandemic so that Americans are able to stay up to date with the latest news and information.

Local newspapers and broadcasters have been particularly hit hard financially due to decreased revenue typically derived from advertising sales. This comes at a time when they have increased coverage of daily news, alerts and educational programs. As Congress and the administration continue to work to keep small businesses operating and employees on the payroll through the Paycheck Protection Program, we believe there is an opportunity for the federal government to provide relief to our local newspapers and broadcasters.

Many federal agencies maintain advertising accounts in order to provide public notices and information to Americans. For example, the Census Bureau receives funding to run advertisements regarding the 2020 Census. With the passage of new programs under the CARES Act and other COVID-19 related legislation, there is an opportunity for the federal government to disseminate essential information to Americans through local advertisements. Further, allowing for flexibility for state and local governments to use federal funds to publicize new programs and information to their residents would serve a vital, dual interest. Increasing local advertising will both help disseminate important information to communities and support local media with revenue that will help keep them operating. This action can be implemented today, without the need for additional federal appropriations from Congress. 

We strongly believe that local newspapers and broadcasters play an integral role during the COVID-19 pandemic and making sure that stations are able to continue operating during this time is critical. We therefore encourage the Office of Management and Budget to work with federal agencies throughout the government to increase advertising in local newspapers and on broadcast stations in order to help ensure they are able to continue to operate throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

We thank you for your attention to this important issue and look forward to your response.