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Media

Ah, just another step closer to corporate ownership of all media that you consume on a daily basis. Maybe you heard that the Federal Communications Commission—that media watchdog set in place to protect Goliaths from stomping Davids into extinction—voted this week to loosen rules that restrict ownership of broadcast stations.

One company can now own a combination of stations that reaches up to 45 percent of the national audience. Media conglomerates now will be able to own more stations in the same market. And with the elimination of cross-ownership limits in markets with nine or more TV stations, a company can own both a TV station and a newspaper serving the same market.

Reno, Carson City and Incline Village have 14 TV stations (and 31 radio stations), according to a searchable database of media ownership run by The Center for Public Integrity, www.openairwaves.org.

What does this mean for you? Well, profit is always the bottom line. With most mergers, TV, radio and newspaper staffs end up being cut or growing smaller by attrition. Quality suffers. So does honest reporting. If a company owned both a prominent daily Reno newspaper and, say, KRNV Channel 4, you’d be likely to see more mutual back-rubbing and no internal accountability. On the other hand, look at the wonderful potential for advertising synergy and political action.

Also, as media giants suck up the little local companies, you can expect less local content and more national content—syndicated stories, photos and film footage is cheaper. Ever pay attention to how many wire stories (Associated Press, Knight Ridder, USA Today) run in the Reno Gazette-Journal, which is owned by the newspaper giant Gannett?

Less diversity of opinion. More political correctness. Marketability makes right.

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Posted inDennis Myers Memorial

Media

Decent viewing or decent viewers?
Reno television station KREN, which broadcasts on Channel 27, is running a political TV spot asking viewers to help it get authority to censor network programs before they get to the living room.

The spot asks viewers to contact Sens. Harry Reid and John Ensign and ask them to support legislation called the “broadcast decency enforcement act.” The measure has already passed the House on a 391-22 vote. Nevada Rep. Jon Porter voted for the measure, but Reps. James Gibbons and Shelley Berkley were not recorded as voting. George Bush has promised to sign the measure if it is passed.

KREN manager Fernando Acosta could not be reached for comment, but this is part of the text of the KREN spot: “Are you outraged by the profanity and indecency on network television? We are too. Broadcast TV used to be a haven for family viewing, but not anymore. Congress [originally] gave local broadcasters the right to reject indecent network programming. But the networks have virtually stripped away the ability of the local affiliates, like KREN, to preview and reject objectionable content. If we do so, we risk losing our network affiliation and our station. Please call your senator today and ask them to support the broadcast decency enforcement act.”

The station’s stance represents a break from traditional industry practice, which holds that viewers can decide for themselves what to watch and employ the on/off switch to enforce their decisions, decency thus being decided by viewers. The bill gained momentum from the Justin Timberlake/Janet Jackson routine at the Super Bowl.

Affiliate stations have usually been known for blocking network programming less for reasons of taste than for political or other considerations. During the 1960s civil-rights period, Southern stations often blocked network programs they felt would offend white viewers, such as a famous 1968 NBC program in which British singer Petula Clark touched Harry Belafonte on the arm. In 1975, some CBS affiliates refused to carry an interview with Nixon aide H. R. Haldeman because the network had paid him a reported $100,000, raising issues of checkbook journalism.

But the advent of the Fox network, with its leering approach to sex on “reality” shows and series like Boston Public, has pushed the boundaries of taste, and some other networks have responded by producing similarly lurid programs. But KREN is affiliated with the Warner Bros. Network, which is better known for family series like Seventh Heaven and Gilmore Girls and well-written series aimed at young audiences like Smallville. However, it has recently ventured into the reality show arena with programs like Class Reunion.

The Senate Commerce Committee approved the bill on a unanimous vote that included Ensign. The measure emerged from the committee with nine amendments, including one that could reverse last year’s media ownership rules that encourage media concentration.

An amendment proposed by Sens. Ensign and Conrad Burns of Montana would allow the Federal Communications Commission to consider “ability to pay” in imposing any fines, but Ensign killed his own amendment in order to get the bill out of committee.

Sharyn Stein, an aide to Senator Reid, says he “strongly supports legislation to protect children from indecency on television.” But she said whether the current measure is the vehicle to do that is not clear. “The bill is still working its way through, and some people want to attach, shall we say, non-germane amendments, so we’re going to have to wait and see the final version.”

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...