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Some big news

by   JUDY HODGSON

A recent advertisement by SBC-Pacific Bell exclaimed, "Evidently all the big, earth-shattering news isn't on page A1." That was certainly true Sunday. The big news was on page A6 of the Times-Standard under the headline, "FCC to set rules for media ownership."

The lengthy wire-service article began with these ominous words: "Five relatively unknown federal regulators will soon make a sweeping decision that affects what consumers nationwide see on television, hear on radio and read in newspapers." The report goes on to explain that the flood gates will be opening soon for substantially more media consolidation.

What does this mean for Humboldt County? It is not good news for news consumers, community leaders who depend on quality news reports, or for businesses who advertise. Media consolidation means less competition, and lack of competition generally means less quality. Lack of competition in the extreme -- a monopoly -- means higher prices for advertisers.

Just two years ago KVIQ and KIEM television stations had 15-20 reporters and newsroom staff each; KAEF, with just three reporters, was often yapping at their heels. (See "More news, more often," June 29, 2000, www.northcoastjournal.com.) By January 2002, however, all competition for television news gathering in our market had evaporated. ("And then there was one," Jan. 27, 2002.) With further media consolidation under the new FCC rules, a return to television news competition in our market is highly unlikely.

Far more ominous is the pending FCC rules change that would allow owners of newspapers to own television stations in the same market, a practice now prohibited by law.

Currently the North Coast is served by only two media with the ability and resources to gather news on a daily basis -- KIEM-TV and the Times-Standard. (KINS has a daily broadcast as does spunky KMUD, but essentially those news departments are one-man bands.) According to the proposed rules, Dean Singleton, the majority stockholder of MediaNews, owner of the Times-Standard, could buy Channel 3 or trade it for a station in Salt Lake, and create a newspaper-television news monopoly here.

"Both MediaNews Group, owner of the Denver Post and the Times-Standard, and E.W. Scripps Co., the owner of Rocky Mountain News, have said they are interested in acquiring local TV and radio stations if the ban is lifted," the Sunday article reported.

In Tampa, Fla., the daily newspaper and local NBC affiliate already have a combined newsroom. Ben Bagdikian, a University of California, Berkeley professor emeritus and media expert, said such liaisons lead to "shorter, less detailed new stories and homogeneous coverage."

MediaNews and other groups are heavily lobbying the Bush Administration to pass the new rules. The T-S article reports, "Media companies say the FCC rules -- in addition to being outdated and arbitrary -- actually block better news coverage. By pooling resources of news outlets, they say, media owners could provide broader and more in-depth news coverage. They say they can also offer better advertising packages."

If you believe that, a for-sale sign just went up on the Samoa Bridge.

 


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