Tribune: FCC Ownership Fast Track not fast enough

Posted by Mitchell - November 8, 2007 (entry 578)

You could say that the latest chapter in the media ownership began on October 18, when a front-page story in the New York Times broke about the media ownership question. (I think this website mentions this someplace.)

FCC chair Kevin Martin's admitted in testimony that his plan would be as follows:

* Hold the last localism hearing in late October, in Washington DC. (only three years after its first announcement).

* Hold the last media ownership in early November. (Thanks for the lengthy advance notice, kids.)

* Allow for a month of final public comment on the docket. (Wow! A whole month!)

* Ram through a vote at an FCC public meeting on December 18 (Someone's getting a big Christmas present.)

Despite a number of roadblocks -- including threats by Congress to override the action, another Congressional hearing, and a ton of buzz around the internet on the matter -- Martin's plan is pretty much on pace to whhat he had mentioned in the Times' quasi-leak. An FCC hearing in Seattle -- the last of the media ownership hearings -- has been scheduled for this Friday, November 9. Thanks for the princely sum of 5 business days' advance notice, punks.

But in the past week, word has broken in the media trade and business press that even THIS accelerated schedule isn't fast enough for the Tribune company, which wants the FCC to wrap things up by mid-November. There's a reasonable chance that Tribune deal for $8.2 billion to Zell won't wrap up in time.

The Tribune would need to have this wrapped up so that it can keep the waivers it currently holds to maintain otherwise-illegal duopolies in five cities nationwide, including NY, LA, and Chicago. Small problem: If ownership of the media company changes, the waivers become invalid -- which is no doubt why Tribune is pushing to get this done NOW NOW NOW.

There are two arguments that Tribune is touting on its behalf in this latest push: (1) conglomeration, and (2) jobs. We present them each in turn, with a refutation why they're each baloney.

(1) If we don't get this, we'll have to break up the whole damn company, and someone like Rupert Murdoch or Lowry Mays or somebody is going to buy up the pieces and reduce the local content we would have provided and you're going to regret the day that happened.

Refutation: Narrowly speaking, just because you don't get to keep the waivers doesn't mean you have to chop up the WHOLE corporation -- just enough to obey the law. Other corporations do that. More broadly, the Tribune has no right to play the conglomeration card. It IS a major media conglomerate, and has been eyeing for years to increase its corporate holdings, pushing to get the necessary policy changes to continue its growth trajectory. Four years ago, it gambled on the changes necessary why this happened and lost (the fact that we stopped this from happening didn't is the reason ownership at the Tribune changed in the first place). Then there's a more broad critique that brutal dictatorial corporations like the Tribune thrive in a market context so one proposed solution is to abolish markets and replace them with a better economy, but we'll return to that at a later time.

(2) The Tribune will have to lay off staff if we don't continue the trajectory for growth, and you pro-labor working-class activist hippie types don't want that, do you?

Refutation: Obviously not, but consider that the Tribune has been laying off staff for years now, and could get worse. Indeed, one characteristic trend of media concentration has indeed been increased layoffs, since with more media in fewer hands, fewer content producers are needed, so media conglomerates just lay off the rest. But don't take my word for it -- just ask this guy.

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