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FCC Relaxes Media Cross-Ownership Rules: Here's My Take On It

December 21, 2007

In a contentious 3-2 vote this week, the Federal Communications Commission changed media cross-ownership rules to allow a media company to own a television station and a newspaper in the U.S.' top 20 metro markets.

One key qualifier: the cross-ownership of a television station by a newspaper company is only allowed if that television station was not one of the four most-viewed channels in that market.

On my Huffington Post blog, I endorsed the FCC move. Because my position might have been said to stray from the liberal orthodoxy seen so often on the Huff, I got a fair amount of guff on the Huff from readers.

If you want to read what I wrote, well, you have two choices. You can either click here, or keep reading my republished Huff post after the break.

OK, here's what I wrote on the Huffington Post:

I know the position I take in this post varies from liberal orthodoxy, but I'm not upset at all with yesterday's 3-2 FCC decision to relax FCC cross-ownership rules.

In fact, I endorse this decision.

First, I believe the argumentation that cross-ownership opponents present is underpinned by overgeneralized or false assumptions; that we are a nation full of metro areas with only five or six media companies, all presenting the corporate view on everything from social causes to Iraq; that most U.S. metro areas have only one newspaper, that dissenting voices are stifled by their lack of financing from an evil corporate structure, that if only we had more competition, there would be less news about Britney (and her preggo sister), and more investigations about "stolen elections," guys back from Iraq with bad PTSD, revelations about the superior efficacy alternative medical treatments, etc.

Well, (baloney).

The fact is that in most metro areas - especially the 20 largest metro areas where these relaxed restrictions would apply - we have lots of diverse voices. There's public radio, college radio, free citizen-oriented radio, cable access, weekly alternative papers with powerful voices and investigatory budgets, daily college papers that cover the surrounding community as well, local web sites on a mission to dig up the truth, etc.

Oh, and there are plenty of national websites where you can learn the truth. You're here, right?

All of these outlets are robust sources for stories and viewpoints that ain't getting out.

In fact, the mainstream media sometimes kicks in as well. Shady auto mechanics? Families snared by the sub-prime mortgage crisis? Look at your nightly news or daily newspaper.

Another fact the media monopolists overlook is that in many U.S. cities, there are now more daily voices than you might expect. In New York City, there's not only the Times, Post and Daily News but a.m. New York, the New York City edition of Newsday, Metro, the New York Sun, as well as two dailies in Brooklyn and one in Staten Island. Boston? Not only the Globe and Herald, but two free daily tabs. Same in Philly. D.C. now has three daily papers for the first time in 40 years.

At the same time, major daily newspaper readership is declining as production costs rise. Ever wonder how much more it costs newspaper publishers to fuel up those delivery trucks, or to pay for the health insurance of their staff? While those costs point to the need to fix our energy and healthcare systems, that's not the point of my post.

In quite a few cases, the financial viability of the newspapers that you read is an open question. Would you rather see your local paper benefit from the financial stability of a deep-pocketed cross-platform owner (such as a broadcast group), or watch your newspaper die or become rail-thin?

One other thing about the FCC's relaxation of cross-ownership rules. In all the hysteria surrounding the reaction to this needed action, it is being underreported that the revised guidelines generally do not permit majority cross-ownership of newspapers and TV stations with the four highest viewership ratings in each of these 20 metros.

Given that the typical metro television alignment only involves four local stations with local news operations, I don't see what the fuss is about.

Hey, I'm back. Would love to get some feedback on the stance I have taken.

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