Regarding FCC and deregulation of ownership of media #2

  1. Silly me. Read the newspaper again. Even the front page, which I many times try to ignore because I want to maintain my blood pressure within normal limits.

    This is a rather well written article, actually. Presents both sides of this particular issue in what I believe to be a fair way.

    The article is regarding the proposed plan by the FCC to deregulate or loosen rules on ownership of television and radio stations and newspapers. I am against it. It will only add more power and control of information by even fewer people.

    As stated, this particular article fairly presents both points of views (for and against) this move. This includes the opinion of Mr. J. Jeffrey Whitson, general manager of local television station WXXA. This particular t.v. station, by the way, is a Fox affiliate owned by Clear Channel Communications. By the way, Clear Channel Communications already owns most of the radio stations and another cable-t.v. station in New York's Albany area. After reading the entire article. . . it is long, sorry!. . . please re-read the opinion expressed by J. Jeffrey Whitson who supports the deregulation. He "clearly" (pun intended) expresses the reasoning behind his opinion. It is prime example of the "Big Business" mentality. May the Biggest and Best Win! In my mind, this business mentality should be correctly translated to read: May the Company with the Most $$$$$ Win!

    I beg to differ on one point that Mr. Whitson makes. He claims that there are . . . "plenty of voices out there, from television to radio to print and the Internet. Any First Amendment worries are 'absurb'. . ." Well, maybe there are CURRENTLY many voices found on the Internet, thankfully! But his assertion that there are many differing voices found on radio and television is wrong. At least in our Albany, New York area. His "Father Company" (Clear Channel Communications) owns most of them! It's varifiable!

    I also don't believe that information should be a commodity monopolized by one or two or even three companies. That type of monopolization does threaten free speech. And what compounds the problem is that the potential for "information" to be regulated by the business that owns the Media StationS will go unchecked by the "deregulation" policies of our government. I find this disturbing. Very disturbing.

    I hope you're concerned about this as I am. Again, to me this is not a partisian issue. This concerns all of us of any political affiliation. Free Speech and the free flow of information is the backbone of a democracy. Otherwise, how can we establish thoughful debates and make informed decisions???

    There are people who say, "Don't Trust Big Government." (One "Rationale" for deregulation!!!) Well, I say "Don't Trust Big Business". We can't elect CEO's or Board of Directors or the Officers of a Business. Worse yet, we can't hold any of them accountable for the decisions that they make.

    Shift Could Produce a New Picture on TV
    [FONT=century gothic]U.S. agency considers loosening rules on ownership of stations

    By MARK McGUIRE, Staff writer

    The Capital Region's media landscape may soon be in for a not-so-subtle shift.

    Maybe WRGB Ch. 6 anchor Liz Bishop will step back into the newspaper business, writing a column for the Times Union, while still appearing on TV.

    Perhaps Times Union staff writers will pop up with live reports on WRGB's 6 p.m. broadcast.

    Or maybe the only changes will be back behind the scenes, where advertisers could make one stop and buy both a TV commercial and a print ad.

    In fact, no one really knows what could happen next month if the federal government, as expected, adopts a sweeping overhaul of the regulations regarding ownership of television stations. And not everyone is happy about it, either.

    In the early 1970s, the government adopted rules that prevent one company owning a newspaper and a radio or broadcast television outlet in the same market as a way to prevent one owner from controlling too much of the media in a community and limiting places where people can air ideas and debate public policy.

    Media companies and others pushing for a change have long said that new technologies -- particularly the Internet -- have created myriad new media outlets, making the old rules obsolete.

    The Federal Communication Commission on June 2 is scheduled to vote on a proposed relaxation of the rules on TV station ownership. It if adopts the new regulations, it's likely there could be greater consolidation of ownership nationwide and right here in the Capital Region.

    The draft FCC plan would raise the ceiling on the percentage of U.S. households a single company's broadcast stations can reach. Currently the cap is at 35 percent of the total television households in the nation; under the proposal that would go up to 45 percent. This would benefit media giants such as Viacom, Disney and Fox.

    In addition, the ban on owning a broadcast outlet and newspaper in the same market would be relaxed, at least in bigger markets. This would apply to the Albany-Schenectady-Troy market, the 55th largest in the nation, local officials said. (The market contains 0.5 percent of the nation's television households.)

    The relaxation of the agency's "duopoly" rule would allow an arm of a parent company of the Times Union to purchase a broadcast outlet in the Capital Region -- most likely WRGB, which happens to be for sale. The CBS affiliate in Niskayuna is owned by Freedom Communications Inc. of Irvine, Calif.

    "We are the one that is for sale," WRGB General Manager Tom Long said of the parent company.

    Times Union Publisher David P. White stopped short of definitely saying Hearst would be a player to buy a local TV station. However:

    "Any time there is a serious acquisition opportunity, it's pretty safe to assume that Hearst will be in there," he said.

    Hearst favors relaxation of the television ownership regulations.

    media executives, the word is synergy -- a combining of talent that creates a force bigger than the sum of its parts. Newspapers and television stations (as well as radio stations) have long sought different ways to team up for economic and sometimes journalistic gain.

    In some markets, newspapers and broadcast stations already are engaged in synergistic efforts such as sponsoring events, cross-promoting editorial content and sharing news-gathering resources even though they're owned by different companies.

    Media giants such as the broadcast networks expect to be the biggest beneficiary of the new cap proposal, but it's doubtful that a Viacom (CBS) or Disney (ABC) would dip into a market this low on the food chain to purchase a station. Roughly half of all viewers in the United States reside in the nation's top 25 markets.

    WTEN Ch. 10 has in the past been rumored to be up for sale; its management says it's not. That puts WRGB in the spotlight.

    Earlier this year, the family that owns Freedom Communications decided to put its eight television stations, 28 daily newspapers and 13 weeklies up for sale. If sold as one unit, Freedom could fetch more than $2 billion, analysts have said. Both Gannett Co. Inc., whose flagship paper is USA Today, and Hearst have been mentioned as likely suitors.

    Long called a deal with Hearst a long shot.

    "Freedom is for sale in its entirety," Long said. "Hearst would have to buy it in its entirety."

    Hearst has deep pockets, though it's unclear how deep. As a privately held company, it is not required to report much financial information. But the Times Union's parent company is no small thing. It is a majority shareholder in New York City-based Hearst-Argyle Television Inc., owns or has a stake in 27 television stations reaching 17.5 percent of U.S. television households; two radio stations; 11 cable networks; 12 daily newspapers and 17 monthly magazines in the United States (18 others in Great Britain).

    Freedom, whose largest newspaper is The Orange County Register, in California, might also decide it could get a better price by selling off pieces of the empire, which includes television stations in two markets in which Hearst has daily newspapers -- Albany and Beaumont, Texas. Opponents of the FCC plan, from the Consumers Union to the Media Access Project and other individuals and groups, say that consolidation would harm the public. Objections include First Amendment concerns regarding limiting avenues of speech, as well as a reduction of local influence and flavor in media outlets and reports.

    Approval would trump opponents who believe the concentration of media ownership reduces the forums to exercise free speech, homogenizes both news and entertainment, and robs localities of distinct and parochial news coverage.

    These opponents point to the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which led to a merger bonanza in the radio industry.

    "It's furthering a destructive tendency started with this mad rush to deregulation ... There is clearly a loss of localism already," said Steve Pierce, a community independent media organizer who help found the The Hudson Mohawk Independent Media Center, a self-described collective that uses different technologies to promote social justice issues it believes are being shortchanged by the "corporate" media.

    "The outcome of this consolidation of news information is to culture is the same as what McDonald's was to food," he added.

    Though favored by most media companies, the pending FCC proposal is not universally embraced.

    Bob Peterson, general manager of ABC affiliate WTEN (owned by Young Broadcasting Inc. of New York City), said his company favors the ideas of duopolies, but added, "We have some concerns as a company about the 35 percent cap, because we think increasing it to 45 percent reduces localism."

    WNYT Ch. 13 General Manager Steve Baboulis, whose station, the local NBC affiliate, is owned by Hubbard Broadcasting Inc. of St. Paul, Minn., is among those questioning the merits of the proposed FCC changes.

    "It does concentrate an awful lot of media influence into one company," he said. "You are talking about a rather sizable change in media power. My sense is it's probably not for the better, and could create a competitive problem."

    J. Jeffrey Whitson, general manager of WXXA Ch. 23, the Fox affiliate owned by Clear Channel Communications Inc., strongly disagrees. Texas-based Clear Channel owns 36 television stations and, thanks to the 1996 deregulation, more than 1,200 radio stations. Its holdings in this market include seven radio stations and a television station. (It also operates cable-only WEDG Ch. 4, the UPN affiliate.)

    Whitson's opinion: There are plenty of voices out there, from television to radio to print and the Internet. Any First Amendment worries are "absurd," he said. As for unfair competition, let the strongest survive.

    "It's part of the economics of our business: To produce better products we have to utilize better synergies," Whitson said.

    If an outlet can't make it in the new media world, then "maybe they should sell that asset to someone else, or purchase more assets ... Where you get outgunned, you may have to close up shop and go somewhere else," he said.

    WRGB's Long said there is a reason broadcasting is regulated: "This is a licensed public asset. You can't just apply unfettered free-market principles."

    White, the Times Union publisher, said he believes there are enough outlets locally for residents to be heard, even if a print and broadcast outlet merge.

    "With the proliferation of voices, there is a balance to that (concern)," White said. "There are more voices out there than ever.

    "I don't know if the acquisition of properties and mergers lessen the number of voices," he continued. "Joining forces doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad thing."
    Last edit by Ted on May 19, '03
  2. 2 Comments

  3. by   pickledpepperRN
    FAIR, the media watchdog groups has issued an alert on the plans of the majority on the FCC: "While FCC chair Michael Powell has the votes to pass the plan, the decision to vote on the matter by June 2 could still be challenged to allow for more public education and debate. Several senators have asked for a delay in the process, and a measure to that end was introduced on May 9 in the House of Representatives (Reuters, 5/13/03). The two Democratic FCC commissioners, Michael Copps and Kenneth Adelstein, also oppose the deregulation, and requested on May 13 that the Commission postpone its planned vote. Powell rejected their request.
    The FCC's rulemaking process is, by design, difficult to follow, but the potential impact of what the New York Times called (3/14/03) "the most important set of rules changes in decades" is alarmingly clear. Broadcasting & Cable reported (5/15/03) that the FCC's current proposals would allow a single company to own as many as three TV stations in any of the five biggest markets (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia), and permit ownership of two TV stations-- as well as a major newspaper-- "in nearly all of the largest 100 markets." In large radio markets, according to B&C, the changes would allow a company to own eight radio and two TV stations."
    Frank Ahrens reports in The Washington Post that strange alliances are emerging on the FCC issues. "Whereas past debates on media ownership have split predictably along party and ideological lines, the current discourse has aligned some unlikely bedfellows. Liberal government watchdogs such as CodePink, who have been critical of FCC Chairman Michael Powell's deregulatory bent, find themselves sharing views with conservative groups such as the NRA, who fear that consolidation could allow anti-gun media companies to deny them ad space. Right-wing groups concerned about family values have also opposed deregulation, stating that media mergers tend to spawn more indecent, family-unfriendly content. This has been especially troublesome for News Corp.'s Rupert Murdoch, who wins praise from the right for his channels' conservative news angle but criticism for the Fox network's racy prime-time programming."
  4. by   pickledpepperRN
    Rupert Murdoch's Digital Death Star
    By Jeffrey Chester, AlterNet
    May 20, 2003
    Even as Michael Powell and the GOP sweep away long-standing media ownership safeguards, media mogul Rupert Murdoch is mobilizing to further expand his TV empire beyond broadcast and cable. His plans to acquire the key direct broadcast satellite service (DBS) - DirecTV - will allow Murdoch to advance his conservative political agenda, creating new channels and services that disseminate the rightwing ideology now espoused by Fox News.
    News Corp. wants to buy Hughes Electronics - the parent company of DirecTV - from General Motors. If the deal is allowed to go through, Murdoch will have a triple play when it comes to influencing U.S. television with his control of broadcast, cable and satellite channels. His News Corp now owns 35 broadcast TV stations and significant cable channels like Fox News, Fox Sports and even National Geographic TV. Add to that DirecTV's 11 million subscribers and Murdoch will be able to greatly shape broadcast and new digital television services. While both the U.S. Department of Justice and the FCC have to approve the deal, don't expect any significant opposition. GOP lawmakers in the House practically fell on their knees when Murdoch testified about the proposed buyout recently. And why not! Fox News essentially provides a 24/7 campaign contribution to the Bush White House.
    The need to oppose the DirecTV acquisition is urgent. Contrary to his promises, Murdoch will use DirecTV as a "death star" to force his programming on cable companies by threatening a price war unless they give Fox favorable access. Since News Corp will control cable TV's principal multichannel competitor, it will easily create new channels unlike anyone else in the TV business. Rather than engage in open combat and competition, cable powerbrokers such as Comcast and AOL-Time Warner will likely accommodate Murdoch and add his new channels to their own services. Imagine Fox News on steroids. Worse, with DirecTV's capacity to "spotbeam" channels to serve distinct communities, localized versions of Fox programs could be available in major cities across the nation.
    The purchase of DirecTV will also enhance Murdoch's existing clout in the U.S. media market. First, News Corp. has already secured key technologies that will act as a virtual tollbooth for the emerging digital TV marketplace. For example, News Corp. subsidiary Gemstar , better known as TV Guide onscreen, allows it to influence viewer programming choices though its control of the key electronic program guide. Murdoch's NDS service , which provides set-top box software, will expand their clout into new broadband digital applications.
    Finally, Murdoch's acquisition of DirecTV, as noted in News Corp.'s "public interest" filing at the FCC will greatly expand its global power. The document openly touts the "efficiencies" of the merger, since Murdoch already controls key satellite TV systems serving Europe and Asia. The U.S. deal will cap a long-standing quest by Murdoch to add this country's market to his immense media empire, and further his political influence all across the globe (for a link to his holdings and other information, go to the Center for Digital Democracy.)
    Murdoch's determination to add a U.S. satellite service to News Corp's holdings was reflected in his campaign to defeat the takeover of DirecTV by its smaller DBS rival Echostar. Although the DOJ was correct in nixing the deal (for it would have merged the only two competitors), Murdoch scuttled the merger by orchestrating a political campaign hatched at the News Corp.'s offices (as reported by the Wall Street Journal and others).
    The FCC is now taking comments on the merger. The official deadline to register formal opposition to the deal is June 16th. But critics and others will be able to weigh in - whether through congressional pressure or other means - through the late fall, when approval is expected. Murdoch has already promised not to discriminate against potential program competitors, such as Disney/ABC, GE/NBC, and Viacom/CBS, preempting any serious resistance from the heavy hitters.
    Ideally, the merger should be denied, but such is the state of competition policy and anti-trust rules (let alone political corruption) that there is little likelihood for an outright rejection. But opposition is essential, covering a number of fronts, to develop some federally imposed safeguards on the deal. For example, Murdoch must be denied full control of the channel capacity of DirecTV. For groups left out of TV - including progressives, persons of color (there are no channels owned by African Americans, for example), women, nonprofits, and labor - this may be the time to seriously consider weighing in. Channels and bandwidth must be made available across the commercial and non-commercial spectrum. The union movement may have some influence in the battle, as GM-related pension funds will own 20 percent of the Murdoch-run DirecTV venture.
    Furthermore, the new technologies under Murdoch's control, such as his electronic guides, also must be disarmed, permitting emerging and competitive programming services to flourish. Key Murdoch investor John Malone (another politically conservative media mogul) must be denied any influence as well.
    But for any checks on Murdoch's DirecTV deal to be put in place, a strong and vociferous protest is necessary. If the U.S. (and the world) is to be protected from Mr. Murdoch's political agenda, the time to act is now.
    Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.