Back in 1978 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Federal Communications Commission rules against so-called "cross-ownerships": business relationships where one company owned both a print and broadcast outlet in the same community. More in this week's commentary from MTSU Professor of Journalism Dr. Larry Burris:
Not only did the rules prohibit the formation of any new cross-ownerships, they also forced several existing cross-ownerships to break up or divest themselves of one of the cross-owned properties.
The Court at that time expressed a very real concern about an out-of-town company controlling all of the news in a given community. After all, one of the founding principles of broadcasting was the idea of local news being provided by local stations.
Unfortunately, the new Federal Communications Commission, under the direction of a President Trump-appointed chairman, has issued new rules relaxing not only cross-ownership rules, but also rules that limit how many stations one company can own or how much of the total national audience one station can reach.
Now, these large media conglomerates will tell you the money they bring to a local station will allow larger news operations. And this is certainly true, until you look at the spin: most of the additional personnel are news producers, not news reporters. Producers are back at the station putting the newscast together. Reporters are working on the streets gathering news.
How much independent news and reporting do you think is going to exist in a small town where the only radio station and the only newspaper are owned by the same company? Do you really think the absentee owners are going to keep their hands off local news and public affairs programming?
Nearly 40 years ago the Supreme Court took on big media and issued a ruling protecting the free flow of information and debate on public policy.
Let's hope we see a similar lawsuit with similar results in the not-too-distant future.