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FCC Opens Way for Media Conglomerates

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FCC Opens Way for Media Conglomerates

FCC Opens Way for Media Conglomerates

FCC Opens Way for Media Conglomerates

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The Federal Communications Commission voted Tuesday to allow companies that own television stations in the country's 20 largest markets also to own newspapers. The vote to overturn a 32-year-ban on such multi-media ownership saw the FCC's three Republicans in favor and two Democrats vehemently opposed.

BILL WOLFF, Host:

Hi, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Good morning, William. How are you?

WOLFF: Tell me what this means. So...

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you know, actually, in a lot of markets, that's already the case. This was passed 32 years ago, this ban. And so a lot of companies were grandfathered in. A lot of companies were given waivers, particularly if you think of the Tribune Company, when it bought the L.A. Times' parent company and got a bunch of really high-level newspapers, the Hartford Courant, Newsday, the Baltimore Sun, which is my old paper, the L.A. Times. Suddenly it owned, and very intentionally, it owned newspapers and television stations in the same town.

WOLFF: And the danger there, David, is essentially that the newspaper will then not report fairly on the television station and the vice versa, is that the fear?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, actually, funny - you should raise that. I was in that precise position when I was at the Baltimore Sun, which had just been purchased by Tribune, and suddenly we were in a partnership with Channel 2 in town. It was not actually owned by Tribune, although there was some discussion that that might possibly play out in the future, and people, you know, were instantly accusing me of it. I, you know, responded by breaking the news of the partnership and then making fun of the ownership of the newspaper - of the television station.

WOLFF: Atta boy.

FOLKENFLIK: This is saying some consolidation is necessary. Chairman Martin says it's important to consider the financial fortunes of newspapers because they've really been struggling. You know, the burst of Internet, where you have, essentially, a free of channel distributions, even of their information, they don't know quite how to charge it and still make money, and they don't know how to give it away free and get the same money from - in revenues from advertisers online. You think they really need this to be able to couple with TV stations, get more revenues, maybe save money in the backroom and keep newspapers vibrant. You know...

WOLFF: Well...

FOLKENFLIK: ...it is a solution, by the way, that satisfies almost no one.

WOLFF: Well, I was going to ask, do newspapers fall under the aegis of the FCC? I thought...

FOLKENFLIK: So although it's not a direct part of the FCC's mandate to do this, to think about the vibrancy of newspapers, it, you know, the chairman can legitimately say, hey. I'm the guy in charge with looking out for the vibrancy of the media for Americans, and newspapers were part of my charge.

WOLFF: Well...

FOLKENFLIK: In this case, he's saying the top 20 markets, where there are eight voices when you combine primary newspapers and television stations, we mail out one of the smaller stations to be owned by the same company as the newspaper. To be honest, the newspaper companies say that doesn't go nearly far enough.

WOLFF: Huh.

FOLKENFLIK: They want to go in one of the markets, and they don't want the size of the stations to be regulated.

WOLFF: Well, not to be Ron Paul about it, but here are the Republicans, it seems, the White House and the Republicans on the FCC, seeming to prop up the newspaper business. I mean, that's their stated purpose, to help the newspaper business survive. Since when is the Republican side of the politics interested in intervening in commerce? I thought they were the laissez-faire party. It doesn't make sense to me.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you know, I mean, it all depends on what your definition of a newspaper company is. This is not really so much for the pure newspaper company like the Washington Post company or the - well, it actually has, you know, a significant side business in education services - or, you know, something like McClatchy, which is essentially a pure newspaper company. This will really help in the short term, anyway, companies like the Tribune Company and News Corps.

WOLFF: Right.

FOLKENFLIK: The Murdoch's, you know, media conglomerate.

WOLFF: Right.

FOLKENFLIK: There are a lot of smaller markets in which these companies operate, too. You know, Hartford in Connecticut is not in the top 20 markets, but if I'm remembering correctly, Tribune at the moment owns the Daily newspaper, the Weekly newspaper and two television stations there. You know, that's the kind of market where they're going to need some help to be able to hold on to that. They've been given a waiver, but, you know, long term, they want the ability to do that.

WOLFF: What?

FOLKENFLIK: You know...

WOLFF: Yes?

FOLKENFLIK: The funny thing is is that you - I haven't seen a lot of evidence supporting the fact that newspapers thrive more as a result of owning TV stations in town.

WOLFF: And thank you, David Folkenflik, the great NPR media reporter, for your insights this morning.

FOLKENFLIK: Always good to join you.

WOLFF: All right, man.

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