December 18, 2007 is a day that will live in infamy, as far as some
media chain owners are concerned. They got what they wanted from the
wild and crazy FCC Chairman Kevin Martin who won approval for
lifting the ban on an entity owning both a newspaper and a TV station
in the same town. But there were strings attached. Cross-ownership, as
it's called, will be okay in only the USA's 20 largest cities, as long as they don't own any of the market's
top four TV stations.
What about us, all the broadcaster and newspaper owner
wannabes who don't fit the FCC's new bizarre discriminatory confusing
guidelines, are whining? Why are we little guys being barred from the
public trough? What's good for the fat cats also should be good for
all of the skinny, bedraggled alley cats.
As much as I hate cross-ownership in principle, when you
get right down to it what does it matter in practice?
I don't have a problem, say, with Rupert Murdoch owning
the New York Post and WNYW (Channel 5) in the New York market.
First of all, his ownership of the Post prevented a
distinguished old newspaper (est. 1801) from going under in the
We all know that he bought the paper and continues
underwriting its heavy financial losses because he is using the paper
as a platform to bash opponents of News Corp or his own enemies, of
which he has a few.
When we read the Post today it's like reading Pravda in
the less democratic days of the Soviet Union. The Post is Rupert's
Pravda. He deserves a Pravda the same way Stalin deserved a Pravda.
True, it's a little hard on Murdoch and News Corp's
targets. Page Six is still at war with Ron Burkle. The man who ranks
117th on the Forbes 400 Richest Americans of 2006 list, Burkle never
gets a positive mention on Page Six. If there's a way of associating
Burkle's name in a story about Adolph Hitler, they will figure it out:
"Adolph Hitler, who Ron Burkle never met ..."
Keep in mind that Alexander Hamilton founded the original
New York Evening Post as a venue for his many essays about what needed
fixing in the new country. He used at least five poison pen names
-Publius, Phocion, Lucius Crassius, Camillus, Pacifius among the most
famous- to spew Federalist wisdom and venom at his Jeffersonian
Heck, even Stalin got to write the occasional piece about
his enemies for Pravda.
Studying Post coverage of news is like reading Pravda in
the old days to see who stood where on the Kremlin balcony watching
the May Day parade. It's especially a joy to see its TV critic squirm
when reviewing Fox Network shows. Occasionally, he might say something
negative just to prove his objectivity, in case anybody does a Nexus
I love it. The Post is entertaining. It's fun to see how
bad a paper can be in the 226th year of our democracy.
No, the issue should be not so much whether you own a
newspaper and a TV station, but whether you own more than one TV
station in the same market.
"Monopoly is a terrible thing," Rupert Murdoch once said,
"till you have it."
Even worse is a duopoly. I'm not talking about a Capella
singers from South Philadelphia. A duopoly is the practice of owning
two stations in the same market.
I don't understand why FCC Chairman Martin in his rereg
mania hasn't opened up this can of worms.
Once again we use as an example Murdoch's broadcasting empire. At
the turn of the last century, in some mysterious way, too arcane to go
into here, News Corp wound up with two licenses. In its comatose
period, the FCC gave Murdoch the freedom to own both WNYW (Channel 5)
and WWOR (Channel 9).
The first thing that happens in a duopoly is they fire
people. When Murdoch took over the Ch. 9 license, he fired a lot of
Ch. 9 people. He fired all the back office people. The programming
Dept.... Research Dept.... Sales Dept... Community Relations --all gone.
The corresponding departments at Ch. 5 do the job for both stations.
Nothing gives Murdoch more satisfaction as ex-employees
found at his properties in Australia, UK and this latest country he's
a citizen of, than a good refreshing round of firings.
The other freedom new owners think they are entitled to is
eliminating local programming. It's too costly, compared to buying a
rerun of "Wheel of Fortune."
Swinging the axe at local programming is going on across
the nation today. Do you know the fastest vanishing jobs over the
last 20 years in broadcasting? Program director. Executive Producer of
local programs. Producers of local programs. They should be on the
Federal government's Endangered Species List, as so few are left, they
are below the level that they can reproduce.
All of this happen because the FCC in its Rip Van Winkle
period allowed stations to drop their public affairs commitment in
And now that the FCC is getting out of bed, under the
prodding of the zany chairman Martin, this Martian in his zest for
re-regulating should turn his four eyes to another FCC blunder.
I'm talking about multiple ownership of radio stations in the same
market. Why did the FCC allow, for example, Clear Channel owning 12
stations in the New York market (it may be more; I lost count).
To its credit the FCC is now murmuring about returning to its
original studio rule, which required the bulk of a station's
programming has to be in the city of license. This would knock a big
hole in Clear Channel's business plan, which has them programming for
the nation from a bunker in a secret location somewhere in America.
They only do it that way because it's cheaper is Clear
Channel's lame excuse.
Across the nation today there is the beating of chests and
the renting of garments at the injustice perpetrated on them by the
FCC. Their first amendment rights are being infringed upon by
regulations, they cry.
Wait a minute, fellas. TV and radio station owners don't
have first amendment rights. They get the airwaves from the public for
free. It's their obligation to fulfill the license terms.
Wake me up, when all this excitement is over.