Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Media Drop the Ball on FCC Rules Changes

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Media Drop the Ball on FCC Rules Changes

Article excerpt

Sometimes it's hard to know what the real "story" is.

There's been a lot of hand wringing in newsrooms around the country over the past few weeks as the Jayson Blair/New York Times story became the Howell Raines/New York Times story.

Since Mr. Raines, the former editor of the paper, stepped down last week, journalists have been chattering. If one misguided and mentally unstable journalist can bring down the editorial regime at the nation's most respected newspaper, it can happen anywhere, or so the editors lament. The Blair saga already has many newspapers reexamining their policies on things like datelines, plagiarism, and fact checking in general.

This is all good and warranted. The Blair fiasco is a lamentable cautionary tale. But it was another story last week that should have raised more serious questions for journalists and the public.

Last Monday, the Federal Communications Commission dramatically overhauled the rules governing who can own what and how much in the media landscape. The changes have a potentially huge impact on how Americans get their news and entertainment - with the net effect probably being a reduction in the number of outlets available. The commission voted to allow TV networks to reach more viewers; to allow companies to own newspapers and TV and radio stations in the same city; and to allow companies in large markets to own as many as three TV stations in the same viewing area.

There was no question that the news media understood the changes to be a big story.

The day after the vote, The New York Times, on Page 1, called the FCC revisions "the most important changes to the nation's media ownership rules in a generation." The Washington Post gave the story similar front-page treatment. In fact, the day the rule changes were announced, they were big news everywhere. Websites made the changes a top story. Radio stations announced them.

But all that coverage only raises more questions. These FCC rulings didn't happen overnight. They'd been in the works since last year. Yet in February, one poll showed more than 70 percent of Americans had heard "nothing at all" about the proposals. …

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