No more media cross-ownership


To the editor:

The lead-up to the Federal Communications Commission’s Dec. 14 decision to reverse net neutrality sparked serious concerns and gained a ton of media attention on yet another reversal of the Obama administration’s signature achievements.

What did not get enough attention, however, was an FCC decision made Nov. 16 that flew under the radar. It is far more harmful to us locally, because it allowed a single company to own a newspaper, television and radio stations in the same town.

The Republican-led FCC voted — along party lines — to eliminate a ban on media cross-ownership, reversing a decades-old rule aimed at preventing any individual company from having too much power over local coverage.

In addition, as part of the vote, the agency also increased the number of television stations a company could own in a local market.

To put this repeal in context, the ban was first put in place in the 1970s to ensure that a diversity of voices and opinions could be heard on the air or in print.

The intended consequence was working, or maybe working too well. Because of the ban, we have had the rise of blogs, websites and podcasts that provide alternative, diverse — and, more important — competitive viewpoints to traditional media outlets. 

Quite frankly, in the age of “fake news,” it’s hard to imagine an ideological brand of news in Westchester or in any other county, without a court fight. 

But with deep pockets and this FCC rule-change, the scenario of “abridgement of free speech” protected by the First Amendment is now probable.

The politically conservative Koch brothers-backed $3 billion merger deal involving Time Inc. (publisher of Fortune, Time, Sports Illustrated and People) and Meredith Corp. (publisher of Betters Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, All Recipes) was announced Nov. 26 — 10 days after the FCC decision. It is just the start.

To be sure, if history is any guide, more acquisitions, mergers and consolidations will follow. Less clear and troubling is how that consolidation will impact competing voices without our emerging tribal, political landscape.

Derickson K. Lawrence

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