Tensions rising between lawmakers and media companies over bill to ban non-compete contracts

It can be a bit fun to watch a few of the big and powerful Utah institutions get their comeuppance.

And at least in the Utah House, it’s happening with the bosses of Utah’s leading TV and radio stations – especially Deseret Media Corp., the owners of KSL Channel 5, KSL Radio and the Deseret News.

Tuesday, in an open House Republican caucus, House Speaker Greg Hughes, Rep. Mike Schultz, and others took turns talking about “a few bad actors” in the electronic media in Utah.

The battle is over what is known in the trade as “non-competes” – contracts that some lawmakers say are forced on TV and radio on-air personalities, producers and reporters.

Hughes and others claim that the fight is ironic in several areas – including the media bosses keeping reporting on the issue off of their stations and broadcasts.

The media bosses are not only censoring their news, says Hughes, R-Draper, but they are also through hints and out-right orders keeping their reporters and other staffers from even testifying or lobbying openly in favor of doing away with the non-competitive contracts.

UtahPolicy.com has reported on this previously, back in 2016 and recently.

And, again on Tuesday, UtahPolicy.com was told that there had been print/video stories written about the issue, but which have been spiked, not published by their media outlets.

Holding up and shaking a thick sheaf of papers, Hughes told his open caucus he was holding around 70 emails or text messages from TV and radio employees who complain about the non-competes used by their employers.

Hughes said he would not name the reporters producers and editors who have contacted GOP House leaders about Schultz’s HB241 – but that all are in favor of the bill that would severely limit non-competes in the Utah news media industry.

A non-compete is a contract which says the employee can’t leave the media outlet and immediately go to work for a competing station – with employees usually having to wait a year before appearing on a competing station.

Schultz, R-Hooper, a homebuilder, took on the issue three years ago. He got beaten up badly politically and settled for limiting non-competes to one year.

After hearing from many news media employees recently, Schultz decided to run another bill outlawing non-competes in that industry.

And then the big boys – KUTV 2, ABC4, Fox 13, and KSL 5 TV and Radio – came out against the measure.

The ensuing public testimony on HB241 in a House committee and lobbying – as reported by Salt Lake Tribune columnist Robert Gehrke – is nothing short of magnificent political theater.

The peak of hilarity comes as Gehrke obtained a secret audio tape of Deseret Media Corp. president Keith McMullin, a former LDS Church leader, telling a group of lawmakers over a filet mignon lunch that KSL so loves its top broadcast employees that the church-owned station doesn’t want the on-air personalities or station managers to fall into the love of “mammon” – a religious term for sin of greed of earthly wealth.

Really. You can’t make this stuff up.

Schultz told his caucus Tuesday that TV/radio station bosses no longer want to negotiate with him. (Gee, I wonder why?)

But on his own, Schultz says he’s going to amend his bill in several ways he hopes will to some extent appease the media bosses.

That’s not likely.

So the media powerhouses will look to scuttle HB241 in the Senate. And if not successful there, may turn to GOP Gov. Gary Herbert for a veto.

Herbert has not taken a stand on the bill yet.

However, in a press conference last week he wondered aloud why lawmakers need to take on non-competes when the governor believed the controversial issue had been settled three years ago.

Will TV stations start running stories on HB241 and their own employee contracts – which Hughes says reduces some media workers to chattel?

Will some local reporters who favor the bill come out of the shadows and publicly say so?

Will Schultz’ home TVs go dark – for no apparent reasons?

Stay tuned – so to speak.

This one isn’t over yet.