FCC hears from experts, community

04/21/10 Kate Bradshaw
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:

Yesterday the Federal Communications Commission held a workshop at the University of South Florida that explored the ups and downs of media cross-ownership. The commission’s possible lift on its limit of how many outlets one company can own in a city did not go over well the audience.

The chairs at USF’s Marshall Center auditorium were sparsely populated, but the passion among attendees was big. Dozens gave public testimony on the virtues of local media. Port Richey resident Mark Scodeman said that deregulating media ownership would lead down a dangerous path.

The commission also heard from a panel of media experts ranging from consolidated media company heads to a journalism scholar. Karen Dunlap is president of the Poynter Institute, which owns the St. Petersburg Times. She said that despite significantly declining resources, media outlets need to invest in community coverage, something some panelists said big media doesn’t do.

Ken Tonning, President of Gannett-owned WTSP-TV said that buying up multiple media platforms, like radio, television, the Web, and print, can result in better local coverage.

Patrick Manteiga, editor and publisher of the Spanish language newspaper La Gaceta said that his ad revenues have suffered because Media General can afford to sell cheaper ads for Centro, the Spanish language newspaper it owns.

John Scheuller, Market Leader of Media General, which owns the Tampa Tribune, News Channel 8, WFLA and Centro, denied this.

Some pointed to mainstream media’s use of the word “market” to describe a coverage area, which Scheuller dismissed as semantics. USF-St. Petersburg Journalism Professor Bob Dardenne said that word choice does matter.

Bob Ratcliffe, Deputy Chief of the Media Bureau of the FCC, said that while he values what was said at the more than four-hour meeting, the FCC is just beginning its process.

He said the commission will continue to hold field workshops across the country to explore possible impacts of lifting the ban, which has been in place since 1975. Media General was grandfathered in since it’s ownership structure predates the rule. The FCC has twice tried to deregulate media ownership, something a federal court blocked both times.

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