Saturday, May 28, 2022 |
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• The ‘Friends’ factor
Imagine a life without “Friends.” Imagine a world where NBC can no longer afford its most popular program. No Rachel, no Phoebe or Chandler or Ross, no Monica or Joey. No “Must-See” TV. No quality programs like “Law and Order” or “Good Morning, Miami.”
OK, maybe not “Good Morning, Miami.”
The dark nightmare of a world without free network TV haunts Michael K. Powell, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. He led the push for the FCC’s new rules on media ownership, telling ABC News: “It is the network that pays for ‘Friends’ and pays Jennifer Anniston’s salary. And pays the $10 million per episode that it takes to produce a program of that quality.”
To preserve network TV, in all of its glory, against encroachment from cable, video, the Internet and other interlopers, Mr. Powell’s FCC voted 3-2 last June to allow networks to own local TV stations reaching as much as 45 percent of the nation’s population, up from the current 35-percent limit. Local TV stations, particularly in big markets, are where the money is.
The new media ownership rules left in place provisions that allow conglomerates to operate as many as eight radio stations in a single market. The rules lifted a ban against a single company owning a daily newspaper, a television station and radio stations in the same market. And the rules set out a “diversity” index governing how much of each market can be served by media outlets with common ownership.
Mr. Powell defends the rules as preserving “localism,” but many members of Congress on both sides of the aisle disagree. They note that the big networks are owned by big corporations that also own lots of other things, including cable, video and Internet providers, movie studios, newspapers, radio stations and other mass media. That’s too much power in too few hands, they say, and they’re right.
Opposition to the FCC rules has sprung up at the grass-roots level, linking conservatives suspicious of the dominance of companies such as The New York Times, with liberals who seek a broad diversity of voices in the media.
This week, the Senate voted 55-40 to block the new rules. The House is already on record as opposing the 45-percent rule for network ownership of local stations, but House leaders have vowed to block any vote on tampering with the other rules. President George W. Bush has threatened to veto any bill blocking the FCC rules. Undaunted, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, is laying plans to cut the FCC’s budget for enforcing the new rules.
In promulgating its new rules, the FCC did nothing to promote localism and a great deal to further the special interests of giant corporations like Viacom, News Corp., General Electric and Disney. Even if, God forbid, it should mean the end of “Friends,” Congress should roll back the rules instead of rolling over for Big Media.
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