Will Obama’s FCC Chair Nominee Defend Media Democracy?
In a communications landscape where everything is up for grabs, the most powerful—and self-serving—players are grabbing for everything. And decisions that President Obama and his next appointee to chair the Federal Communications Commission will make in the coming months could well decide whether new media robber barons will dominate the local, state and national discourse.
Rupert Murdoch has renewed his push to have the FCC scrap its thirty-eight-year-old media cross-ownership rule, which bars him from buying up the daily newspaper, the largest television and radio stations, and the top digital news and entertainment sites in major American cities. Murdoch wants to rule the roost in Los Angeles, where he already owns TV stations and is salivating at the prospect of combining them with the Los Angeles Times, the nation’s fourth-largest newspaper, which the Tribune Company is putting up for sale.
If the FCC clears the way for greater media consolidation, Murdoch could face competition from even more ambitious players, including the Koch brothers. LA Weekly reports that the billionaire funders of right-wing campaigns might begin backing up their political projects with purchases from a Tribune stable that includes the largest newspapers in California, Illinois, Connecticut and Maryland, as well as media properties in battleground states like Florida and Virginia.
Newspapers no longer make the kind of money they once did, but as the American Journalism Review notes, there are buyers who get excited by a “Citizen Kane model of using the paper’s news columns to promote a point of view.” And if the FCC scraps its cross-ownership rule, the “Citizen Kane model” won’t be restricted to traditional news columns. For evidence of that, look to San Diego, where developer Doug Manchester has, since he purchased the powerful Union-Tribune, stirred an outcry by turning the paper (and its popular website) into a cheerleader for his projects, proposals and candidates. Even if the media buyers are not heavy-handed right-wingers, rule changes that would allow billionaires to use old-media newsrooms as one-size-fits-all “content providers” for broadcast outlets and heavily trafficked new-media sites should be rejected, in the words of Free Press president Craig Aaron, as “unfathomable at a moment when the airwaves are already so consolidated, so concentrated, and simply don’t represent the diversity, and the diversity of viewpoints, of the American people.”
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