Monday, June 02, 2003

MEDIA CONSOLIDATION The FCC eased its consolidation limitations today. A move that should have the effect of preserving the existence of some stations in smaller markets while homogenizing some programming in others. But whether AOL/Time Warner, GE, Viacom and NewsCorp are on the verge of stamping out all dissent in favor of their money-grubbing big company views is yet to be seen. Suprisingly, those who argue against consolidation tend to scream about the squelching of free speech while giving no actual evidence of it beyond allegations that Clear Channel took corporate action to squash the Dixie Chicks (I've yet to find real evidence). (Why Republicans voting for rules that are alleged to give CBS, NBC, ABC and CNN more power to influence national debate?)

But now that the deed is done, let's watch to see if the sky falls. While I expect some negatives to result, I'm not preaching the end of the world because I know that there will be tangible benefits in the saving of small television in small markets and the realization of economies of scale among stations and newsrooms. Maybe there will be the possibility of TV stations starting up newspapers to compete with the existing newspaper monopolies.

Meanwhile, Tom Shales, the TV reviewer, ventures into the realm of law and economics and parrots the chicken little stories without any real investigation, and certainly no balance. "Economies of Scale" are unknown to Tom's sources who baldly assert "History shows that when you borrow a lot of money to buy new properties, you plow profits back into debt service and you cut costs. And viewers suffer." Shales reporting continues with the harrumph of Barry Diller, late of Fox -- now averse to NewsCorp's support of these revised limits:
Diller scoffs. "Anybody who thinks they're in trouble hasn't read the profit statements of those companies," he says. "The only way you can lose money in broadcasting is if somebody steals it from you."
I've seen income statements and I've seen balance sheets and if you aren't USA Networks (Diller's current home) and don't have the resources from a larger diversified business to support a small station in, say, western Nebraska, then you do lose money.

I wonder if Shales would like for the Washington Post to spin off its Newsweek magazine and end its relationship with MSNBC. After all, the diversity of voices (if not viewpoints, clearly) seems to be the top priority.

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