FCC hearings weigh the future of media ownership in U.S.

by Vince Horiuchi, Salt Lake Tribune

This week, the Federal Communications Commission held another public hearing - this time in Nashville - on media ownership and consolidation. What's at stake here is what you see and hear on radio, television and newspapers, objectivity in mainstream news and the fate of the First Amendment.

What the FCC does with this information also will determine if the rich get richer or whether independent voices in this country have a fighting chance to be heard.

Personally, I opt for the latter. News Corp. owner Rupert Murdoch hardly needs more money for another yacht.

The FCC is holding a series of public hearings around the country on the issue of whether a single media company can own more TV, radio stations and newspapers in one market.

In 2003, former FCC Chairman Michael Powell - who almost single-handedly destroyed the fabric of media in this country - made a run at changing the rules for media ownership. Those rules have been overturned by an appeals court in Philadephia, which said the FCC didn't prove the changes were justified. The ruling prompted the FCC to hold a new round of hearings on the proposed changes.

According to critics of those changes, one company in one market could own eight radio stations, three TV stations, a cable provider and a daily newspaper.

Needless to say, if media conglomerates can own more newspapers and television stations in one city, that
means fewer viewpoints would be expressed over the airwaves.

Clear Channel, for example, owns two television stations in Utah - KTVX Channel 4 and KUCW Channel 30 - plus a goodly number of radio stations, and has the right to broadcast Bing Crosby Christmas songs 24 hours a day if it damn well pleases.

Viacom owns CBS, MTV, VH1 and all of their sister stations. Disney owns ABC, ESPN, ABC Family and other networks. What used to be many companies owning a few stations is now few companies owning many stations. And they're all sounding and looking the same.

Media conglomerates do one thing: create creatively bankrupt, bland content. They produce for the highest-viewing demographic. In part, that's why reality shows are all like "Survivor," why medical shows will end up being a lot like "Grey's Anatomy" - which, by the way, looks a lot like "ER" - and all crime dramas smell like "CSI."

Media companies are in it for the money. They've never been in it for the community service, no matter what they tell you.

Conglomerates say loosening the restrictions is good for them in a changing digital marketplace flooded by competition from the Internet. They insist it's good business to consolidate.

I argue they need to make content that people want to watch/hear/read to keep their stations, networks and newspapers growing. They can't just shovel programming to the lowest common denominator. They have to invent and create - they can't just copy what they see on the Internet.

If media giants are allowed to continue gobbling up properties in a single area, only one voice will emerge for the biggest audience of viewers and listeners. I can't imagine anything worse.

article originally published at http://www.sltrib.com/columnists/ci_4842144.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey