Two front page New York Times Business Day stories last Tuesday struck me for their irony… and their importance to media and advertising industry leaders. As expected and righteous, a federal appeals court tossed out the Federal Communications Commission $550,000 fine imposed on CBS for the infamous Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction. It's farcical that this issue was even required to be resolved in the court system, costing both CBS and the government far more than the half-million fine. A nine-sixteenth second exposure of a female nipple covered by "a pastie" on live TV during the Super Bowl half-time game was perceived as so egregious that not only did it become the hottest news story of that event, but it also was one of the biggest stories of the year. In the end – it has proven to be the non-story it should have been from the beginning. It encapsulates the misguided political agenda of the Bush FCC under FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and personifies why the FCC has been so dysfunctional and largely impotent for the past seven years (although credit is due for approval of the XM/Sirius merger).
A second NYTimes story was headlined " A Product's Place Is on the Morning News Set," and focused on product integration during local TV station morning programs. A key paragraph is: "Arrangements like these are anathema to journalists and media watchdogs. And the broader issue of product placements is under scrutiny at the Federal Communications Commission, which is weighing tighter rules for how sponsorships on TV shows are disclosed." There you go again, Mr. Martin. (The Supreme Court is about to rule on the FCC's appeal of another court's decision to strike down a commission policy imposing fines for the fleeting expletives uttered by Nicole Richie and Cher on Fox Network (and TV stations). It appears inconceivable the judgment will be reversed.)
The Times reporter, Stephanie Clifford, makes the personal judgment that such promotional deals are anathema to journalists, suggesting they support media watchdog groups. These same watchdog groups would love nothing more than to quash the First Amendment for their own political agenda, and I believe many journalists recognize and appreciate the fact that advertisers help pay their salaries and softness in the newspaper ad market is causing massive layoffs of journalists. Unless the TV industry identifies innovative new business models, local TV reporters will suffer the same fate. Unless the TV industry is permitted to stretch some boundaries in this new media environment, local TV news will quickly follow newspapers into the economic doldrums.
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