Monday’s decision by the Federal Communications Commission green-lighting more media consolidation drew scorn and praise from consumer advocates, media experts and industry insiders.
Critics, such as Phyllis Rowe of the Arizona Consumers Council, worry that consumers will pay a heavy price because more consolidation will reduce the number of choices for information access.
"I think it’s going to reduce competition," she said. "We sent several letters, and we really worked hard to prevent them from relaxing this stuff because of the problems that happened with the relaxation of the radio rules so that Clear Channel Communications owns so many stations."
Clear Channel now owns eight radio stations in the Valley. The FCC left intact the maximum number of radio stations a company can own, so Clear Channel is still limited to eight stations here.
"We need the competition," Rowe said. "It’s unfortunate that they did do this, because it’s an anticonsumer move. I’ve already gotten an e-mail from someone suggesting that perhaps we boycott any stations that are purchased by other stations."
The criticism and concern are unwarranted, said Fritz Leigh, associate director of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Telecommunication at Arizona State University.
"I think we’re well down the road in terms of media consolidation already, and certainly there are antitrust laws in place that I think would stop any real abuse in terms of control of media outlets and voices," he said. "We still have pretty good diversity of media voices out there. I think that this is not going to significantly change things from the way they are now. I think people are just looking at it and sort of overreacting to it."
Leigh said he doesn’t expect consolidation of TV stations, and increased cross-ownership of TV stations and newspapers to result in fewer voices reporting the news and disseminating information.
"I think you’re going to see coordinated efforts among existing reporters, which may indeed result in better reporting," he said.
Many radio stations were struggling financially and would have left the airwaves if the federal government hadn’t cleared the way for consolidation in the mid-1990s, Leigh said. Monday’s decision could help television stations and newspapers that are struggling financially because they will have big companies behind them, he said.
Joe Foote, the school’s director, said the decision will probably affect the Valley’s media landscape because "there are some pretty aggressive, mid-size players in the market who would like to expand."
"I’m thinking of mainly Gannett Corp., Belo Corp. and E.W. Scripps Co., and possibly CBS Infinity as well," he said. "I was thinking radio and TV on the cross-ownership and just expansion of television. On the newspaper crossownership, the East Valley Tribune is very much a target with the Hoiles family thinking about selling."
Gannett, which owns The Arizona Republic and KPNX-TV (Channel 12), is interested in acquiring Freedom Communications, which owns the Tribune. Experts have said current antitrust laws would prevent Gannett from owning the Tribune.
Monday’s FCC decision could pave the way for another media company, such as Belo, which owns two Valley television stations, to acquire the Tribune.
Gannett eventually would have had to sell KPNX-TV, but can now keep the station. Gannett spokeswoman Tara Connell said the media giant has no comment on the FCC decision.
John Lansing, senior vice president for television at E.W. Scripps, said the decision favors networks over local broadcasters in terms of station ownership. His company owns television station KNXV-TV (Channel 15).
"Inhibiting localism is not good for local markets and local communities, and is a blow to communities that value local programming as part of their unique point of view," he said. "Local programmers tend to be the ones who produce local programming."
As for newspapers, E.W. Scripps is now free to buy newspapers in markets where it already owns television stations. The company has no specific plans for acquisitions in light of the FCC decision, Lansing said.
"I think that is a good thing to help newspapers and local broadcasters again grow in an era of much more aggressive competition, and continue to provide their unique service that they provide in terms of local journalism, both broadcast and print journalism," he said.
News Corp., which owns KSAZ-TV (Channel 10) and KUTP-TV (Channel 45), applauded the decision because it would have had to sell some of its media properties because it owns more than was previously allowed, spokesman Andrew Butcher said.
"We would have had to sell several stations and the New York Post if the decision had gone the other way," he said. "We’re over the cap."