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2008-05-01 / This Week's Attitude

This Week's Attitude

Bad News If Newsday Joins Murdoch Media Empire
By Neil S. Friedman

By Neil S. Friedman

Reports about Rupert Murdoch's bid to purchase Newsday, the Long Island-based daily newspaper, sent a shudder through the media world last week.

But before the deal is formally sanctioned, the Federal Communications Commission must determine if Murdoch's thirst for another news organization in a market, where he already has too much control, is in the best interests of the public - in the short and long terms.

For more than 35 years, as chairman of News Corporation, the native Australian has slowly been spreading the news - along with his right-of-center influence - as he's gobbled up many American press outlets, from newspapers to the successful and influential Fox News television network to the 20th Century Fox movie studio.

If the pending purchase works out, it will give Murdoch a media monopoly in New York City, adding Newsday to an empire that includes the New York Post and the recently purchased Wall Street Journal, as well as channels 5 and 9, the hub of his 11-station Fox Network. Murdoch's media umbrella also encompasses the Fox News and Fox Business networks, plus the hugely popular MySpace.com Web site and the Star supermarket tabloid.

Incidentally, if the Newsday deal is approved, News Corp. will also takeover the 22-year-old pennysaver weekly, the Marketeer, which is a Newsday property.

It was reported Friday that Daily News owner Mortimer Zuckerman matched Murdoch's Newsday offer, but Murdoch has substantially more financial resources and would likely outbid Zuckerman to take an advantage in the battle of the city's only two remaining daily tabloids.

With Newsday in his pocket, Murdoch would control three of the nation's top ten circulated newspapers. And the outlook for the respected suburban tabloid - with its 19 Pulitzer Prizes and numerous other journalism accolades for over 65 years - under Murdoch, is gloomy at best.

In the three months since the Wall Street Journal has been in his stable, it is estimated the preeminent financial broadsheet has eliminated 30 percent of its business news in favor of Murdoch's inclination for news with a conservative bent.

And let's not forget that since he bought the Post in 1976, Murdoch has transformed the 207-year-old daily from what was a good newspaper into one thatprefers to splash lurid, tabloid stories and gossip on its front and primary news pages rather than relevant news content.

Though tabloid journalism is traditionally sensational, with its "if it bleeds it leads" mentality, Rupert Murdoch, who has displayed a preference for second-rate news about scandals and gossip ever since he began in newspaper publishing in 1953, has single-handedly reduced those standards even further. Sadly, some rivals have followed his lead merely to remain competitive, as daily newspaper circulation steadily drops nationwide.

In 1994, when Murdoch wanted to buy Fox's Boston television station, federal regulators forced him to sell the Boston Herald, which he had taken over 12 years earlier. But that was when the FCC was under the moderate Clinton Administration. Since George Bush became president, the regulatory agency, which used to restrict a company's ownership to one newspaper and one television station in the same city, under its antitrust rule, has been more lenient about multiple media ownership.

For several years under the Bush Administration, the FCC has granted multiple ownership when a newspaper and television station did not rank in the top four in their region. Many moderates and liberals contend that relaxing of the rule has allowed conservative talk radio to flourish.

Late last year, under a new chairman, the FCC reverted to the old standard. As a result, and before the Newsday bid was announced, Murdoch sought waivers to allow him to continue to own his two New York television stations and the Post.

The Democrat-controlled House Commerce Committee is expected to approve legislation to officially revert to the old "one paper, one TV station" per media market regulation this week. The New York Times reported the bill has a good chance of passing the House and Senate this year, but will likely be vetoed by lame duck Bush.

Nevertheless, the Times indicated new FCC chairman Kevin Martin opposes granting waivers for excessive media consolidation in one city, like News Corporation has done in New York, so Murdoch may face a predicament even if the congressional legislation fails to override the anticipated veto.

In our nation, where capitalism is sovereign in a free market atmosphere, there's nothing morally wrong about expanding one's business horizons by the book. However, when it comes to media, which has seen dramatic changes and innovations in the last decade, specific rules and regulations should restrict one individual's manipulation of a free press, which can limit competitiveness, not to mention opposing viewpoints.

The FCC has an obligation to restrain Rupert Murdoch's voracious media appetite before the mogul consumes and turns another American newspaper into a product best suited for wrapping fish.

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