By abolishing a regulation requiring TV and radio stations to have local broadcast studios, the FCC is enabling broadcasters to disconnect from the communities they’re supposed to serve, looking the other way as media conglomerates churn out newscasts that are either homogenized or slanted – and abdicating its own responsibility to protect the public interest.

The so-called “main studio rule” was put in place to encourage interaction between the people who watch or listen to the news and the people who put it on the air. The goal was to allow local concerns and local feedback to shape local news decisions.

With viewers and listeners now able to contact stations via email and social media, the decades-old rule has become obsolete, say those who successfully pushed for its elimination last month. Their other argument: That the decision will save broadcasters money that now can be channeled into local programming.

Don’t be fooled by the spin – this is essentially a handout to companies like the Sinclair Broadcast Group. Known for distributing conservative commentary on a “must-run” basis to its 173 local stations (including the Portland CBS affiliate, WGME), Sinclair is awaiting FCC approval of a deal that would allow its stations to reach about 72 percent of U.S. households.

With such reach, and the touted savings from no longer having to maintain local studios, Sinclair could do a lot to support local news production. But their track record indicates that’s not likely. The in-depth, award-winning WGME newscast is not the norm for Sinclair; known for a penny-pinching approach to its news operations, it laid off most of the news staff at its NBC affiliate in Toledo, Ohio, in 2016, shifting production to its ABC affiliate in South Bend, Indiana.

“Anyone who understands how these big media companies operate can see the danger,” Christopher Ruddy, CEO of the conservative website Newsmax, wrote in a recent Washington Post op-ed. “By owning local stations, the New York-based media networks could dictate local news coverage. With the planned elimination of the local studio rule, they will have a green light to do so.”

His concerns are echoed on the left, with Dana Floberg of the consumer advocacy group Free Press warning that the FCC “has blasted open a path for conglomerates like Sinclair to move even more resources – including broadcast facilities and staff – away from underserved communities.”

This is particularly concerning in rural states like Maine, where access to news online is hampered by the poor quality and uneven availability of broadband and data caps on smartphones.

At a time when citizens need more and more-reliable sources of information, the FCC’s decision to eliminate the main studio rule will ensure just the opposite.

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