The FCC and More Media Consolidation: The Monster that Will Not Die

We’ve all seen movies with monsters — aliens, masked serial-killers, cyborgs from the far future — that just will not die, no matter what you do to them. Incinerate ’em and a loose gram of their psychotic essence reconstitutes itself and the battle is on again.

So it with the FCC announcing that it is going to try to fast-track a ruling allowing giant media corporations (the only ones who can afford to play this game) to, among other things, own both a newspaper and television station in the same city. Here in Minneapolis-St.Paul the one immediately conceivable combo-platter like that would be Gannett Inc., which already owns KARE-TV, buying one of the two daily papers … and tell me Avista Capital Partners, the Strib’s hapless owners, wouldn’t be open to an offer?

This idea was roundly slapped down a couple years ago when the previous head of the FCC, Michael Powell, (Colin’s kid), tried it. As The New York Times reports this morning the outpouring of negative comment, not to mention the aggregation of some very strange bedfellows, (NOW and the NRA!), was unprecedented. The public — the wisdom of crowds — understands very well that LESS consolidation is the direction media in this country needs to go, not more.

This is — big shocker here — yet another intensely partisan crusade. The FCC is currently a 3-2 Republican-Democrat split, and will remain that way through the remainder of the Bush administration. (If 3 to 2 sounds eerily like the 5 to 4 vote that put Mr. Bush in office, well, it’s a weird world, isn’t it?) Currently, as the Times reports, the Commission’s two Democrats are, A: Surprised this is back on the table, and B: Digging their feet in to fight again.

Commissioner Michael Copps sounds more adamant than his colleague Jonathan Adelstein, who is quoted expressing concern that such a ruling should require more diversity in the system by somehow guaranteeing access to women and minority buyers of media companies.

Please. Women and minorities are no more impervious to the siren song of fat buy-out paydays than your average Clear Channel/Gannett/Media Corp. white guy. If the system required women and minorities to maintain ownership and exclusive programming control for 10 or 20 years, maybe the “diversity” argument would be more appealing. But as it is/has been the first time one of the giants wanders in with a 20-times earnings buy-out offer, “diversity” is a fleeting memory.

I could go on for hours about the deleterious effects of media consolidation, but try this for a quick and easy “explainer.”

Consolidation=debt=budget cutting=less truly local coverage=more and more “economies of scale” (syndication, low-brow news and entertainment.)

I’m open to anyone who can make the argument that the Clear Channel model of consolidation — the biggest and the arguably the most self-serving — has created more thorough and accurate local (or national)news coverage, more listener access to a wider range of musical talent, and less of the profoundly and demonstrably inaccurate and false, not to mention poisonous demagoguery of consolidated, syndicated “talk”? Now imagine if that kind of micro-managed, cutthroat, C- student quality thinking were granted the right to “program” your local newspaper as well? (Ok, no worse than Dean Singleton and Avista, you say? Damn, you might have me there.)

I strongly suspect the current FCC head, Kevin Martin, is getting orders to ram this through before the limos of all good Bushies are egged on their way out of DC in ’09. And it seems reasonable to speculate how much campaign dough is lined up for deposit in Republican National Committee bank accounts — hello, Rupert! — to get this in to law before some “socialist” Democrat comes in with the lunatic idea that tamping down on consolidation might depress speculative media acquisitions and create more access by less gargantuan owners, some maybe even local, some maybe even female and/or minority.