FCC ruling will have little impact

Published 9:11 pm Wednesday, June 11, 2003

By By BILL CRIST - Publisher
It can be interesting spending time with you peers, talking over issues that you think will impact your industry in one way or another. Working in the media, by the very nature of what we do, there is a great deal of attention to developments in how we cover events, handle scandal within our ranks and bring the public the information they rely on us for. And as I was reminded in talking about developments in our industry with two publishers this past week, we often have similar takes on issues, including those that happen within our communities and outside as well.
This past Monday, the Federal Communications Commission, (FCC) decided to loosen its regulations on media cross-ownership. Previously, the number of properties a company could own in a single market was restricted when a broadcast (radio or television) medium was involved. There were strong rules in place that basically determined how many different kind of media and what percentage of market share a company could own. When originally drafted, the rules were designed to ensure that consumers would have a choice, and that no one entity could come to control what is reported and what is not. At the time, with only three television networks, a fraction of the radio stations we have today and many cities with numerous newspapers, it probably made sense.
The FCC grants licenses to radio and television stations, giving them permission to use the public airwaves for broadcasts. And while there is some control of what goes over the airwaves, the government generally keeps its distance. The government plays no role in the print media when it comes to what, where or when we publish.
In the past, the rules regulating cross ownership helped serve as a safeguard, if you will. We policed others and ourselves in our profession. In many cases, though, the public as a whole was the most vigilant observer of the media. By either calling into question or simply changing the station, its readership and viewership went a long way toward determining what was covered, and how.
This runs contrary to many people's point of view; that a corporate office makes editorial decisions. In some isolated cases that may be true. The reality, though, is that corporate offices are interested in profits. And the pathway to those profits is producing a quality, if not excellent, news product that readers trust. By attracting readers, you can attract businesses that want to market and grow their own profits on your pages or broadcast. By operating a successful newspaper, or radio station, companies are able to invest in the resources that allow them to grow, and become even better at the job of informing the public.
Which brings us back around to the FCC's ruling on Monday that loosens ownership rules among the media. Many people fear that the change will limit consumers' ability to get the news, as media companies consolidate. They are concerned about the creation of mega-corporations controlling what goes out over the airwaves and in print.
As consumers of entertainment, our choices may continue to go down following the ruling. The jokes about there being 200 channels but nothing to watch are valid. Radio stations change format almost weekly it seems, trying to stay ahead of the latest trend.
But the news industry will likely go mostly unchanged, if not improve in some ways. We will still watch over government and each other, reporting important news to our readers and listeners. In Brewton, in particular, there are still schools to cover, city and county governments to report on and events to photograph. Our commitment here is to build profits through an exceptional product. A product where decisions about content and direction are made here in Brewton, not Washington D.C. or some other far-away city.
be contacted via email at bill.crist@brewtonstandard.com

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