Much Ado About Nothing
I find it hard to get as worked up as the opposition over yesterday's FCC's decision to allow a company to have common ownership of a newspaper, TV and radio station in any one of the top 20 U.S. markets, amending a 32-year old rule. As I said yesterday on Larry Mantle's AirTalk program on KPCC, the Los Angeles public radio station, it amounts to a half-baby step toward liberalization of media ownership. My opposite number in the discussion, Josh Silver, executive director of the Free Press, was apoplectic over a ravenous quest for "profits" ending diversity in media. The segment is available at the KPCC site here. The trouble is, there's no sign of the great blanding of media content that Silver rails against. To be sure, local newspapers and radio stations have cut their staffs, but that reflect changing market conditions – a shift on the part of readers, viewers and listeners to other sources of news, the Web, cable TV and satellite radio, to name three. And if local alternative journalism is the goal, in this day and age owning a newspaper or TV station is a terribly inefficient way to accomplish it. Why take on all this overhead when, with far less resources, a motivated individual can accomplish much more with a video camera, a PC and a connection to YouTube. Bottom line, however, the FCC's decision did not amount to much. Through past waivers, the FCC has permitted cross-ownership in many of the major markets covered by the new blanket ruling, including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Under the new rules, a newspaper still cannot acquire one of the market's top four broadcast properties and at least eight independent voices must remain. So despite the outcry from anti-business corners, from a regulatory perspective, there isn't much that's going to change.