Robert “Bob” L. Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET), the nation’s first television network providing news, music, sports, and public affairs programming for an African American audience, agrees that the new FCC chair needs to prioritize media diversity and media ownership issues.
“We need someone who actually cares about those issues,” Johnson told CJR, adding that he is not interested in the job. Johnson called current FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn (the daughter of the third-ranking House Democrat and former majority whip Jim Clyburn), a strong replacement for Genachowski. Commissioners, appointed by the president, serve five-year terms; one commissioner is named chairman. Other names for possible FCC chief are getting bandied about too, including venture capitalist Tom Wheeler, a fundraiser for President Obama.
Another hot topic in media circles right now is whether the FCC will further ease the 1975 media ownership rule, which limits the ability of a single entity to own both a newspaper and a television or radio station in the same large market. Opponents are painting the possible rule change, proposed by Genachowski, as a path toward bigger media monopolies as well as a ‘giveaway’ to News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch, who already owns two TV stations in Los Angeles, has made no secret that he now also wants the Los Angeles Times.
The Newspaper Association of America and National Association of Broadcasters both support relaxing the ownership rule, while public media advocates warn it may be bad for the public interest. Changing the anti-monopoly rule is the sole policy agenda for the NAA. Relaxing the rule is the one area the organizations believes the government can do something that’s positive for newspapers, said Paul Boyle, the group’s senior vice president of public policy.
“What we have argued is that anybody that’s willing to invest in newspapers should be applauded, not discouraged through a ban that has been in place for nearly 40 years,” Boyle said. “There are situations where newspapers might come come on the market and there could be a broadcast owner in that market that would want to invest in that newspaper. This longstanding rule should not prohibit that kind of resources coming to newspapers.”
Policy advocates, including Free Press, say changing the rule will not only open the door to more consolidation but will also further reduce the diversity of perspectives and voices in the marketplace—and lead to more unemployed journalists.
Political ad disclosures
A year ago the FCC told broadcasters in the top 50 TV markets to post political advertising information online (public policy advocates want even more disclosure, such as including names of major contributors be listed directly on ads). The current FCC rule will be extended to all broadcasters within the next two years.
Forcing radio and TV stations to reveal how much they charge political candidates puts them at a competitive disadvantage, said Dennis Wharton, the National Association of Broadcasters’s executive vice president of communications, because cable and Internet companies, including Google, do not have to do the same.
“If the desire here is for more transparency in the political process, why wouldn’t you extend that rule to other media, including cable and Internet? …What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” he added. “What’s good for broadcasters ought to be good for cable companies as well. The FCC has yet to give us an explanation as to why they are only singling out broadcasters for this requirement.”
No date was given for Genachowski’s official last day on the job.