Cross-Ownership: Less Local News, More Layoffs

FCC chairman Kevin Martin and his Big Media buddies like to suggest that media consolidation creates a stronger media and allows one company to serve the local community better through “synergy” and “efficiencies of scale.”

They suggest that by leveraging the combined resources of media conglomerates and local papers they can bring a new level of service to local communities.

But using the FCC’s own data, we’ve shown that allowing one company to own a major daily newspaper and broadcast station actually decreases the amount of local news in a given community. And this week, one media giant has proven that cross-ownership also leads to fewer jobs.

Media General, one of the biggest beneficiaries of the FCC’s recent media ownership rule changes, announced it was going to slash its workforce and gut newsrooms across the country.

On Dec. 18, the FCC voted along party lines to lift the 30- year cross-ownership ban that has protected communities from the kind of media monopolies that emerge when one company owns too many media outlets.

In addition to opening the door to further media consolidation, Martin also snuck through a series of waivers that amount to a “get out of jail free” card for Big Media companies like Media General that have been violating the law for years.

Media General – which met with key FCC staff just days after Martin outlined his plan to relax the cross-ownership rules – made out like a bandit in this deal, securing four permanent waivers and giving the company a near monopoly over the news in the Tri-Cities area of Tennessee and Virginia; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Columbus, Ga; and Panama City, Fla.

The FCC’s waivers violate even the newly relaxed rules they just established– not one of these communities is in one of the top 20 media markets to which these changes were supposed to be limited. This is a clear indication that the FCC doesn’t take its own rules seriously and is not committed to protecting the public interest under the very guidelines it established.

The FCC’s justification for these waivers is that newspaper-broadcast combinations will help struggling newspapers, create more local news, and better serve the public. But Media General’s announcement that by October it will cut roughly 11 percent of its staff — 750 jobs — questions how exactly cross-ownership is supposed to benefit either struggling newspapers or local communities. As their newsrooms are gutted, these layoffs are sure to mean more junk media for Media General’s local communities.

It does not have to be this way. In April 2007, hundreds of local community members converged on the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center to speak out on Media General’s already established throttle hold over the city’s news and information. But the FCC did not listen, and now we see what happens when a company is driven by the interests of Wall Street, not Main Street. As word spreads of the job cuts, shares of Media General rose 7.7 percent, reinforcing the fact that cost-cutting comes before quality journalism.

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