FSRN Report on Media Ownership Rules / Tribune Expands TV Empire

Today’s Free Speech Radio News featured a segment on the upcoming FCC review of media ownership rules. I was interviewed by reporter Leigh Robartes for this report and Robartes also used a bit from my interview with Ivy Glennon on Dec. 20. You can download a 13 MB broadcast-quality mp3 of the whole show or listen in Real Audio.

Robartes interviews a Tribune Company rep in his piece. Tribune, a powerhouse in both newspapers and TV ownership, has been one of the most vocal companies urging the FCC to get rid of the newspaper-TV cross-ownership restriction. In the piece the Tribune rep owns up to the company’s intentions and claims that a newspaper-TV duopoly improves the quality of TV news.

Of course this can only be true due to the woeful state of most local TV news and the incredible cost-cutting that typically occurs when local stations are purchased by larger non-local companies. So while newspaper-TV cross-ownership in a given market may achieve certain synergies, it comes at the expense of having any kind of real check on the power of either the newspaper or the TV station. Most medium to large-city daily papers have some kind of media column — how critical will a paper be of its sister TV station, especially if they share essentially the same newsroom?

And, as if to only illustrate their intention to gain permission to gobble up stations left and right, today Tribune announced that it is purchasing two WB TV affiliates in St. Louis and Portland, OR. At the moment Tribune doesn’t own a paper or other TV station in either market.

The purchase was reported gleefully in the business section of the Chicago Tribune website (presumably it will shop up in the business section of tomorrow’s print edition). The article introduces the deal with the observation that it is “Setting up what might be an active 2003 of media buying and selling,” noting later in the article that

“The Acme deal could be only the beginning, analysts say. With the FCC expected to ease cross-ownership restrictions sometime in the coming year as well as the number of stations companies can own, most expect the buying and selling of TV and radio stations to ramp up once again after a lull.

[Tribune TV President] Mullen said that the prospect of prices rising soon after deregulation did not affect the timing of the deal.”

Notice that the expectation of loosening restrictions is reported as nearly a given, with not a single reference to the fact that there is significant opposition to such a change. No, the deal is simply reported as “business news” that gives only the facts that are of interest to investors. Unlike recent New York Times reportage on the ownership issue, this article makes no acknowledgement of the public interest aspect of media ownership and the possible effects of more consolidated TV ownership.

(Though, to be fair, the Tribune’s LA Times has done some decent reporting on FCC Commissioner Michael Copps’ dissention and the FCC’s proposal to raise cable TV ownership limits. However, these stories — like nearly all mainstream press reporting on the issue — are still relegated to the business section.)

This oversight is all the more interesting because in this article the Tribune is reporting on itself. Tellingly, the article reads like little more than an elaborated press release. Hey, don’t shit in your own back yard, right?






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