Newspaper logo  
 
 
   Why Same-Market Ownership of Newspapers and Broadcasting Stations is a Bad Idea

MEDIAWISE:

Why Same-Market Ownership of Newspapers and Broadcasting Stations is a Bad Idea

by Alice Cherbonnier
Local news reporting will be the big casualty if the FCC relaxes, as expected, its rules barring same-market cross-ownership.

Harvard professor Alex S. Jones, writing in the New York Times on Feb. 28, says that the federal rules limiting media ownership are rapidly disappearing, and this does not bode well for the future of our much-vaunted freedom of the press. As local newspapers and radio stations merge with television stations, the gathering and distribution of news will likewise be lumped together.

A recent federal appeals court ruling ordered the Federal Communications Commission to reconsider its limits on the number of TV stations a network can own, and struck down the FCC rule that prohibits a cable company from owning a TV station in the same market. Given the terse language of the opinion, and a 1996 law that requires the FCC to review its rules every two years and "repeal or modify any regulation it deems not to be in the public interest," it's likely there will be further reductions, or even the elimination, of limits on ownership. In 1999 the F.C.C. gave networks permission to own two stations in the same city, and not surprisingly the result has been a wave of acquisitions.

Next, the F.C.C. is expected to relax or eliminate the rules preventing a single company from owning both a town's newspaper and a TV station (or two TV stations). In the vast majority of cities and towns in the United States, there is now only one major newspaper. Most newspapers and TV stations are already owned by major chains - but not in combination in the same town.

The anticipated deregulation "would almost certainly set in motion a frenzy of acquisitions of media properties by companies like Gannett and the Tribune Company, which own both newspapers and TV stations," according to Dr. Jones, writing in The New York Times. "By trading a significant media stake in two towns for a bigger„and more profitable„position in one town," he points out, "these companies stand to become even more powerful. Similarly, networks can be expected to want to own the newspaper in places where they already operate TV stations." It is considered just as likely that TV stations will take over newspapers as the other way around. Critics suggest that television control of newspapers could lead to further "dumbing down" of the news if the FCC rule change occurs.

Those who see nothing wrong with relaxing the prohibitions point out that Americans have such other news sources as the Internet, cable television, and alternative newspapers. Dr. Jones points out that such diversity doesn't matter when it comes to local news, where daily newspapers dominate across the landscape.

In Tampa, FL, a major newspaper chain owns a local TV station and they have merged newsrooms. This could lead, Dr. Jones warns, to a "consolidation of news judgment." He writes, "Too much media concentration in any town is inherently unhealthy, like relying on a single dominant industry or investing heavily in only one stock. Excessive dependence on a single source of news can put at risk the free exchange of ideas essential to democracy."

He concludes, "The First Amendment is meant to assure robust debate, and the limitations on local cross-ownership were written with that objective in mind. On the local level, rolling back those rules will inevitably make that debate more one-sided."

We Baltimoreans have such a potential situation already brewing with the increasing collaboration of The Sun and Channel 2, whose cameras have already been installed in the newspaper's newsroom.


Alex S. Jones is director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. To see the complete article, go to The Costs of Consolidation.


Copyright © 2003 The Baltimore Chronicle and The Sentinel. All rights reserved. We invite your comments, criticisms and suggestions.

Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle and Sentinel content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.

This story was published on April 4, 2002.
  
APRIL 2002
LOCAL NEWS
·
·
·
·
·
·
·
·
·
ART & ENTERTAINMENT
·
·
·
·
SPEAKING OUT
·
·
·
·
·
·
·
·
NEWS MEDIA CRITIQUE
·
·
·
·
·
NATION & WORLD
·
·
·
·
·
·
·
·
·
CITIZENS REFERENCE: BLUE CROSS PRIVATIZATION ISSUES
·
·
·
FROM OTHER SITES
·
·

Public Service Ads: