Give 'em Zell! ... While You Still Can, etc.

The good news: The FCC will now allow big-market media companies to own both a newspaper and broadcast station; at least as long as the market is one of the biggest 20 in the country, and any television station would be no bigger than the fifth-most popular.

The bad news: Why the F*CC are we even talking about this in 2007?

The worse news: If a Democrat wins the presidency, Democrats will run a majority on the FCC board. And here's the kind of nonsense Commission Democrats are saying:

"The FCC has never attempted such a brazen act of defiance against Congress," said [Jerome] Adelstein, in his comments. "Like the Titanic, we are steaming at full speed despite repeated warnings of danger ahead. We should have slowed down rather than put everything at risk."

"Today's story is a majority decision unconnected to good policy and not even incidentally concerned with encouraging media to make our democracy stronger," said [Michael] Copps[.]

In 2004, reason interviewed then-FCC Chair Michael Powell, and contributor Ben Compaine demolished the hoary myth of the "media monopoly." Also check out this FCC/ownership two-fer by Jesse Walker from 2003. 

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ATL||

    The Cox sisters own the top local TV station in Atlanta- WSB, the only daily paper- the AJC and a AM talk/News station you can pickup 6 or more states away.Why is it so hard for everyone else to own all the major media outlets in a city?

  • Doctor Pepper||

    first post

  • Shorter Matt Welch||

    *wah, wah, waaaah*

  • ||

    AHHHHHH!!! OMG!!!! Companies can buy other companies!!! AGGGHHHHHH!!!! Run for your LIVES!!!! NOOOOOOOO!!!!

  • Janey||

    What does this have to do with die Weisse Engel?

  • stoneymonster||

    Wait.. what does the FCC have to do with PAPER NEWSPAPERS? I never even understand what they had to do with cable television...

  • Peter||

    I can't believe how pissed the Democrats are. They're talking like there's been a coupe. It shows you just how statist they are when at the loss of control of the media they throw their skirts over their heads.

    I say this to them ... You can have my media outlets ... when you pry them from my cold, dead hands!!!

  • Kolohe||

    I watched a PBS special the other day on this by Bill Moyers I think. While the editorial bias was predictiable, with clips of a whole bunch of congressional grandstanding being confused with dedicated service to the public interest, the current FCC chair did himself no favors by seeming to be simutaneously both callow and a tool.

  • edison||

    Why are Democrats upset?
    They outlawed light bulbs today.
    They should be basking in victory.

  • ||

    I think if a company owned multiple media outlets in the same market before the FCC instituted the ownership rules, they were allowed to keep them (hence the Tribune Co. owning the Chicago Tribune, WGN radio, and WGN TV).

    One question I have is, what happens if your TV station starts out as fifth most popular, and then gets better, to become fourth most popular? Do you have to sell it, or does the same "grandfather clause" apply?

  • Maxwell||

    They're talking like there's been a coupe.

    OK. Would you believe, a mid-size sedan?

  • ||

    One question I have is, what happens if your TV station starts out as fifth most popular, and then gets better, to become fourth most popular? Do you have to sell it, or does the same "grandfather clause" apply?

    You act like they actually considered the implications of policy before enacting it. But this takes too long.

    We have to think of the children, whose minds may be corrupted by people buying stuff...

  • Dave W.||

    what happens if your TV station starts out as fifth most popular, and then gets better, to become fourth most popular?

    why did it rise in the rankings? good quality? cross-promotion? privileged access to news sources & celebs on account of being a big player? does it matter? should it matter?

  • Joshua Holmes||

    Who the hell reads a newspaper anymore?

  • ||

    "Today's story is a majority decision unconnected to good policy and not even incidentally concerned with encouraging media to make our democracy stronger," said [Michael] Copps[.]

    The hilarious part about this is that they're worried about forms of media that are quickly becoming obsolete. Personally I rarely watch TV and haven't bought a newspaper in months. I get most of my information online. And I don't think I'm that unusual. Why should I get my news from the perspective of one local newspaper when I can go online and with a few quick clicks get perspectives from all over the world?

  • Big Nanny||

    Anyone that belives what they see on news shows or read in the paper is an idiot anyway.

  • ||

    "Like the Titanic, we are steaming at full speed despite repeated warnings of danger ahead. We should have slowed down rather than put everything at risk."

    They'd just as soon take it over themselves, wouldn't they.

  • ||

    "A coupe" --- shit ... that was a bad one.

    By the way, I knew the lightbulb thing would happen soon enough. If I live in a rented apartment will my landlord actually come and take my bulbs out and replace them with the nasty florescent ones.

    Another thing ... there are sooooooo many God damned sources of information available everywhere - print, internet, tv, radio, cable, carrier pigeon - it's truly ridiculous to say that we are in danger of being fed propoganda by an elite group of corporations with slavish ties to ... whomever (I suppose right now it's de rigeur to say the Republicans), and that we are incapable of intelligent reasoning to determine what source is best for us. It is a tired point that the public is a pack of feeble-minded does who need guidance through the harsh thicket of deceptive media voices that masquerade as journalists.

    Freedom of speech, and a Free press does not mean insured equal distribution of ideas. It means the free competition of ideas. May the marketplace decide the victor, who may constantly be in flux. Here endeth the lesson, courtesy ... The Founders.

    Oh and one more thing. They can have my lightbulbs ... when they pry them from my cold dead hands!!!!

  • ww||

  • Chris Peterson||

    What's a newspaper?

    And to add to Big Nanny's comment above:

    Anyone that believes what they see on news shows or read in the paper or the Internets is an idiot anyway.

  • ||

    Anyone that believes what they see on . . . the Internets is an idiot anyway.

    Uh... wouldn't that makes anyone who believes you an idiot?

  • Edward||

    Anyone that believes what they see on news shows or read in the paper or the Internets is an idiot anyway.

    You mean Ron Paul isn't going to win?

  • ||

    Other good news: the FCC auction of the 700MHz spectra is coming up next Jan 24. This will put another nail in the coffin of broadcasting.

  • ||

    "it's truly ridiculous to say that we are in danger of being fed propaganda by an elite group of corporations with slavish ties to ... whomever"

    Who was it that said, "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people."? Wasn't that Michelle Malkin? ...or was it Rush Limbaugh? I forget.

  • Nazi||

    You mean Ron Paul isn't going to win?



    I hope not - I hate that freedom loving bastard!

  • Digital Toast||

    Uh... wouldn't that makes anyone who believes you an idiot?



    Without reasoning about it, yes. That's the point. It's all information. Regulating information comes from an ancient "three-station city" mentality and/or a need to control our rotten, broken minds. However, it's been bypassed. The competition has won.

    They can charge whatever toll on Erie canal they want. I'm on the rail.

  • src||

    Okay. Having seen the HHI numbers, I'm pretty bowled over; the media isn't anywhere near an oligopoly. I had been under the impression that the FCC was just doing routine trustbusting stuff, but it's not. It's interfering with the free competition of ideas.

    I think when people worry about media concentration, they may have legitimate concerns but be confused about the reasons. Network news is on a faster cycle than it used to be, so the stations copy each other's stories; anchors are no longer journalists; there's less reporting and more talk and fluffy human interest. But you can't blame that on monopoly -- it just seems a consequence of more people watching their news than reading it. You can't regulate consumer choice away. (I do think you can educate it, though; what if every school asked the kids to read a morning paper?)

  • Anon||

    This never, ever was an issue until one particular conservative owned a few newspapers. Politcally motivated? Nah.

    OMGFAUXNEWSRAWRR!!!

  • Dave W.||

    I'm pretty bowled over; the media isn't anywhere near an oligopoly. I had been under the impression that the FCC was just doing routine trustbusting stuff, but it's not.

    I think the idea is that the FCC wants even less centralization in the media market than the default maximum centralization standards that apply to other things like restaurants, computer operating systems, soda or automobiles.

    The idea is that if I can't get the exact kind of soda I want, then that is a tragedy, but if I can't easily find a writer whose information and/or opinions I like, then that is a bigger problem (not the end of the world, but a bigger problem). The FCC balances that problem against the "right" of businesses to consolidate, and finds in favor of my convenience more often when we are talking about writing and expression and ideas and think-y stuf like that.

    I mean, the silver lining here is th Internet and cheap DVDs. My media consumption had been going down and down because the newspapers, teevee shows, magazines and movies have been getting suckier my whole life as economic concentration and the inevitable hegemony takes over. Bad outcome. The Internet has loosened things up to the point where the media interests me again -- although I am much likelier to be at the Agitator or CopTalk or Patently-O or YouTube or GOOGLE News or the Fall Online Forum to gather my news news and entertainment news.

    But not everyone is on the Internet, and the FCC should be looking out for an enhanced competition in the marketplace of ideas, above and beyound what the FTC looks out for in other (non-insurance) markets.

  • Dave W. correction||

    --that is NOT a tragedy--

  • Dave W.||

    It's interfering with the free competition of ideas.

    Or, to put it another way, did you catch John Stossel's "too hot for teevee" inteview with Ron Paul?

  • Russ 2000||

    Who the hell reads a newspaper anymore?

    Who the hell watches local TV programming anymore?

  • T||

    (I do think you can educate it, though; what if every school asked the kids to read a morning paper?)

    Doesn't work. They tried this when I was in high school for my government class. A significant percentage of us used tabloids like the Weekly World News, the Enquirer, and the Star.

  • ||

    "Ben Compaine demolished the hoary myth of the 'media monopoly'"

    Compaine's schtick was to define everything under the sun as "media industry," then say the top 10 companies only make 40% of the money, then he broadened it to the top 50. Then he uses some voodoo algebra...none of it broken down by market...to try and make sense of the soup he created. Whenever he is confronted with consolidation in content (ie, news) he tries to switch the discussion to delivery (ie, cable). Compaine would classify kids pissing in the snow as media if it would help his case.

  • Episiarch||

    Anyone that believes what they see on news shows or read in the paper or the Internets is an idiot anyway.

    You're missing the big picture. Anyone that believes anything that anyone tells you in any form is an idiot.

  • ||

    Dave W,

    You have got to be kidding; it's the government's job to make sure I can easily find an opinion writer I like? To use its monopoly power on taxing and imprisoning people to make sure I can find an opinion writer I like?

  • ||

    "it's the government's job to make sure I can easily find an opinion writer I like?"

    Hypo: If Newscorp somehow put together a deal to buy ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, AOL Time Warner, Universal, Disney, the Tribune Co. and the NY Times with the understanding that they would all adhere to Fox News' editorial policy, would it be the government's job to block such a deal?

  • Dave W.||

    You have got to be kidding; it's the government's job to make sure I can easily find an opinion writer I like? To use its monopoly power on taxing and imprisoning people to make sure I can find an opinion writer I like?

    I am not saying that it is their job to make this happen. I am taking the somewhat different, somewhat similar position that it is fair, just and Constitutional for them to regulate interstate commerce with this special objective in mind.

    Some measures would be valid toward this objective and other measures no. It depends on how harsh the regulation is. If they had to nuke Hollywood to ensure better media, I don't think they should do. If they had to drown a sackful of kittens, then I don't think they should do it. However, if the regulation at issue is merely that various newspapers, radio stations and newspapers must remain relatively small and highly independent, then I say that it is a regulation fairly tailored to the objective at hand and its relative importance.

    It doesn't mean you can't run a newspaper if that is your Randian dream -- so we are not impigning on anyone's core Objectivist rights or prerogatives here.

    It is sad that Matt Welch is incapable of this level of nuance in thinking about the problem. I was hoping that his stint at LAT would have fixed up his thinker in this regard. I can still remember when he used to make posts like this before the interregnum.

  • Dave W.||

    It doesn't mean you can't run a newspaper if that is your Randian dream

    as a matter of fact, my proposed regulation makes it more likely that you will succeed in running a newspaper. In that sense it is a more Objectivist position than Mr. Welch's pro-media centralization schtick.

  • ||

    Most of this is predicated on the supposition that if one company owns both a paper and a television station, that company will have an inordinate amount of control over news coverage. That, in turn, is predicated on the idea that television stations report news. If nothing else, that last premise is flawed.

  • LarryA||

    If they had to nuke Hollywood to ensure better media, I don't think they should do (so).

    I can think of some other reasons to nuke them, though, so go ahead.

    However, if the regulation at issue is merely that various newspapers, radio stations and newspapers must remain relatively small and highly independent, then I say that it is a regulation fairly tailored to the objective at hand and its relative importance.

    Newspapers used to be independent because they had different viewpoints. A major city, or even a large town, would have a conservative paper, a liberal paper, a socialist paper, a populist paper, etc. The golden age of yellow journalism.

    Then journalism schools turned to preaching fairness and objectivity, and everyone was supposed to report the news "without bias." Given that that translates into every newspaper sounding like every other paper, the multiple papers became unnecessary.

    I remember the waning days of the San Antonio Light, before the SA Express-News drove it out of business. The major competition between the two publications was in the size of their Wingo-Bingo prizes, and the major content difference was which comic strips they carried.

    Journalism school killed far more newspapers than corporation buyouts ever did.

    if I can't easily find a writer whose information and/or opinions I like, then that is a bigger problem

    Marketing of newspaper columns is controlled by the syndication process, over which the FCC has no control. Marketing of news content is controlled by the Associated Press, also outside FCC control. You have your money on the wrong agency.

    Most of this is predicated on the supposition that if one company owns both a paper and a television station, that company will have an inordinate amount of control over news coverage.

    Since they both feed off Associated Press, who owns the paper and station is largely irrelevant.

    Note that I live in a rural Texas county (pop. c 40,000) with three newspapers, a daily AP organ and two local news weeklies.

    Disclaimer: My wife writes all the non-sports news and takes most of the non-sports photos for one of the weeklies.

  • ||

    People who take it on faith that there can't be a sustained monopoly don't do a very good job judging the evidence of whether one is coming into being.

  • Dave W.||

    and people who fetishize monopoly as the exclusive measure of a dysfunctional market don't do a very good job of recognizing oligopolies or the marginal harm they cause.

  • Dave W.||

    I remember the waning days of the San Antonio Light, before the SA Express-News drove it out of business. The major competition between the two publications was in the size of their Wingo-Bingo prizes, and the major content difference was which comic strips they carried.

    ummmm

    The Express-News currently circulates as the largest newspaper service in South Texas. The Hearst Corporation, which owned a second newspaper, the San Antonio Light, purchased the Express-News from News Corp. in 1992 and shut down the Light after failing to find a buyer.
    Source: Wikipedia

  • src||

    Dave W.: you make a good point. How to define "competitive" is a judgment call, and it makes sense to set a different standard for information (or "speech.") I'm still not sure whether breaking up conglomerates would actually provide much more diversity in news, though.

  • ||

    The electronic press is "the press," as much as the paper and ink one is. Radio, television, internet: all are in principle the same, in the sense of being means of publishing opinion, news, entertainment, ideas.

    The "scarcity of the spectrum" argument hasn't been persuasive for decades.

    How, then, does "Congress shall make no law..." result in the FCC?

    How does the FCC persist in the face of a clear constitutional prohibition of some of its core functions?

    Why does the government get to decide, in so many cases, who gets to publish?

    Would Ben Franklin have been able to get a Printer's license, had the Federal Publication Commission existed in his time?

  • Dave W.||

    The electronic press is "the press," as much as the paper and ink one is.

    Not for my mother it isn't. Not for my father it isn't. Not for my one sister it isn't. Not for my other sister it isn't.

    And these ppl vote.

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