Good Riddance to a Bad Rule
By BroadCasting & Cable Staff -- Broadcasting & Cable, 12/16/2007 7:00:00 PM
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, in an display of chutzpah that will surely earn him the enmity of many, is determined to use his Republican majority to partially undo the ban on broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership. The repeal of the old ban would cover only the nation’s 20 biggest markets, which is unfortunate. But at least it appears that this anachronistic regulation will hit the dustbin, since someone will likely challenge it in court immediately.
Many public interest groups will vilify Martin—several senators already have, threatening legislation and a complete overhaul of the commission if he went forward with what they see as more deregulation. The two Democratic FCC members, particularly Michael Copps, regularly preach the presumed evil of big media. It’s virtually all Copps talks about and part of the reason Martin has compromised on milder remedies than we suspect he would have preferred.
But FCC chairmen in the past, Democratic and Republican, have agreed that the ban was no longer needed. Keeping a broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership ban at this point in history, when even schoolkids have their own Websites, is lunacy. There is no lack of diverse voices in big cities or small.
What’s more, at the time the cross-ownership ban was imposed, in the mid-’70s, the newspaper industry was robust and very profitable. Now, in large part because of all those Websites, and because of cable, newspapers may need the synergy of linking with a television station in the same city. In cities where cross-ownership was allowed because the alliance existed prior to the FCC ban, we don’t believe the public is ill-served. Usually the cross-owned media outlets are better at serving the public because they have more resources to do so.
That’s why it is too bad that the cross-ownership ban is limited. We think that in middle-sized and smaller markets, where some stations and newspapers suffer through less vibrant economies, a newspaper-television combination would become a public asset. Those cross-ownerships aren’t strictly banned; an owner could ask for a waiver, but the FCC presumption is that those are not in the public interest.
One thing that could happen this week won’t make broadcasters very happy. Martin is likely to start a process that will require broadcasters to air certain types of programming and to run a government gantlet that smacks of content control.
Wiser commission heads or politically savvy ones may prevent that regulatory blast from the past, but we hope nothing (and no one) in the next few days deters Chairman Martin from wrapping up the media ownership review and moving on to a plateful of pressing matters.
Norman Horowitz got awfully angry about the state of media, but he's huffing and puffing for all the wrong reasons. The truth is that today's media doesn't resemble that of the Carter era when there were only a couple of TV stations and a hometown newspaper. Today's media landscape is much more fragmented. I've done some work with NAB and I've seen many local stations kept afloat thanks to corporate resources. It is time to reform media, so let's get rid of Carter era rules!
Chinook - 12/19/2007 3:10:00 PM EST
The mainstream media is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican
Party. Martin's action does nothing more than consolidate power in those
large markets so that the message and information can be even more
controlled. Probably great for business, as is always the stated motivation,
but antithetical to the concept of operating in the public "interest,
convenience and necessity."
Dan Carter - 12/19/2007 9:03:00 AM EST
Good Riddance to a Bad Rule?????????????
It is less that the rule is bad then it is that Broadcast Television has let America down.
This is part of an article I poisted on huffingtonpost.com a couple of dayts ago.
It was about 25 years ago that I had an informal meeting in Washington with a couple of FCC commissioners and several of their senior staff members concerning a Television issue.
One of the Commissioners repeatedly referred to â€œour industry spokesmanâ€ and when I inquired as to whom that might be the reply was â€œwhy Jack Valenti of course.â€ I pointed out that Jack brilliantly represented the MPAA and not all of the television industry, and all in attendance were somehow surprised.
I told them that it was a little known secret that in fact Lew Wasserman was a ventriloquist and that when Jack came before the commission and moved his lips, that the words spoken were those of Wasserman the MCA Chairman.
The names and the issues have changed in the intervening years, and now the FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is determined to remove certain cross ownership restrictions.
25 years later, News Corp, Viacom/CBS, General Electric and Disney are todayâ€™s ventriloquists, and FCC Chairman Martin moves his lips, but the voices spoken in this matter are the voices of these media giants.
Had I the opportunity, I would ask Chairman Martin why removing or modifying the cross ownership rules is good for America? How can these new rules realistically help America be better informed? The quintessential question is â€œwhy now?â€
Would it be good for Americans to have the General Electric Company own the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times? I think not.
Certainly much has changed since the implementation of the cross ownership rules, yet these rules continue to serve our country well.
Chairman Martin appeared Thursday before the Senate Commerce Committee; Martin defended his plan, notwithstanding heated inquiries from Senators from both parties urging a delay.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., suggested the FCC and some media industry execs have set up the Internet as a â€œboogey monsterâ€ to justify changes, when in fact Internet digital competition is no match for the real competition that will be lost between a newspaper and a TV station if the rule change is approved.
â€œGood for you Senator Cantwell.â€
Perhaps Chairman Martin a further explanation would be helpful. I have no research to support my opinions, yet I believe that my 50 years of media experience counts for something, if only a little.
When the cross ownership rules were put in place there were a limited number of content delivery systems available to the public. Presently there are many delivery systems, and in the near term there will be an unlimited number. While I am not thrilled with the concentration of power in the delivery of most mass market entertainment materiel, society requires more diverse delivery of news and opinions that can only come from independently owned newspapers that provide news and opinions that do not originate at â€œcorporate headquarters.â€
Chairman Martin, the broadcast networks delivery of â€œmagazine showsâ€ that they â€œretailâ€ as a half hour of Network news every day, or hours of â€œman bites dog local news weather and sportsâ€ is not what matters. That â€œcontentâ€ delivery is not relevant to the issue at hand.
Because we have cable networks that hide under the nomenclature of news such as CNN, FNC, MSNBC, this content delivery is not relevant as well. We could have a gazillion additional local or national Radio or Television stations, and it would not change the situation a teeny weeny bit.
Senator Cantwell is correct when she indicates that for this discussion the very relevant internet is irrelevant.
Chairman Martin: it is better in an open and free society if it has an INDEPENDENT delivery of real news and commentary from as many diverse sources as possible. Sir, Newspapers represent other INDEPENDENT sources of news and opinion.
I would like to continue to know that when I read the New York Times that its news gathering apparatus and editorial staff are not controlled by the Walt Disney Company. Sir, you appear too statistically analyze the issue and equate numbers of outlets when you should equate diversity of control and what is truly in the best interests of our democracy.
I expect that the giants in the media business are interested in their control of that business and its profitability and not in the best interests of our society or country.
A sad American
Norman Horowitz - 12/17/2007 3:45:00 PM EST
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