Syria, Gaza and the FCC chair babying broadcasters

Industry leaders have been meeting in Las Vegas for the National Association of Broadcasters Show and Adam Symson, president-CEO of the E.W. Scripps Co., made an interesting comparison between broadcast and digital.

“Broadcasting has been traditionally a very protected business — protected by regulation and economically protected because not everybody could have a television station in a market,” he said, according to TVNewsCheck. “That protection allowed us to develop our business in a certain way, historically.”

old tv sets

Running a digital business, on the other hand, “you’re forced to deal with a truly capitalistic, competitive environment,” he said.

fcc logoWhat he’s saying is that there is not a level playing field.

If you want to own a TV station or FM radio station, you need to find one and buy it. It has already been allocated to the area and licensed to operate using the public airwaves, under Federal Communications Commission rules, in the public interest.radio

(For AM radio stations, just find an unused frequency in the area, get the required technical tests done to sow you’re not interfering with anyone else. That should include antenna height and signal power, probably less at night, and then apply. The rules were different way back!)

As I’ve said for years, workers don’t have the First Amendment right to freedom of speech; the station owner does.

black laptop computer keyboardBut there aren’t really a lot of rules when it comes to digital. Anybody can have a website. What you’re reading proves it. So there’s unlimited competition from all over the world, as in World Wide Web.

No, people under 13 should not be filling out information. No porn without at least a warning (and maybe more, as if that works). And it’s not nice to post fake news.

newspaperDon’t forget all the advertising you can sell, since like a newspaper or magazine, digital publishers can have as many pages as they want and even make them longer. TV and radio stations are limited to 24 hours a day. Keep in mind programming and any other content is just to get people from one commercial break to the next, so you can charge more, but too much advertising will cause people to look or listen somewhere else.

 

Of course, looking or listening is free to them and somebody has to pay the bills. Subscriptions usually mean fewer or no commercials since money is coming in. (See: basic cable.)

So, keeping this simple, would you rather have your own TV station or website?

I’d go for the TV station. Yes, it costs more to operate (and even more than that if you want the product to be good). Digital can be done by one person and two cats with a computer connected to the internet.

But the number of TV stations is limited. They used to be referred to as a license to print money. Now, not as much as 50 years ago since, due to the growth of UHF and then cable, but there are still a limited number of stations.

And since they use the public airwaves (not cable, which has its own rules), they have to serve the public. But you’re the owner. You can hire engineers. You can own more than one station. And the number of rules you have to follow is dropping.

TVNewsCheck’s Harry A. Jessell reported FCC Chairman Ajit Pai spoke at that Las Vegas meeting, yesterday. You’d think broadcasters would’ve wet their pants, but what he said wasn’t new.

Pai said his approach to broadcast regulations is, “You either believe in scrapping outdated regulations or you don’t. We do.”

Ajit Pai fcc wikipedia
Ajit Pai (Wikipedia)

So now, eight rules are gone. They include ending the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban and also the main studio rule, which Pai claims “gives broadcasters greater flexibility without sacrificing transparency or community engagement. And it’s already making it easier for broadcasters to add new service or maintain existing service in rural communities” but the rule simply required broadcasters to maintain a main studio in or near their community of license. Think that’s important? Would somebody quite a distance away be an expert or even know enough about your town? So much for localism!

And there are more rules to go.

As for what’s next to go, according to Pai, “In particular, Commissioner [Michael] O’Rielly is now leading an effort to update our children’s television rules so that they better reflect the way that kids watch video these days, and I look forward to getting his recommendations.”

Click here for O’Rielly’s January blog post on the subject.

girl watching tv

Monday, Jessell wrote, “O’Rielly told a group of broadcasters he would like to get rid of the current rule requiring TV stations to air three hours of children’s programming in the form of 30-minute shows each week between 7 and 10am.”

Instead, he expects it to be “more directive” than a call for reform ideas but didn’t have any definite proposals.

The commissioner said his goal is to

“further understand the market and determine if each requirement has produced the benefits to our nation’s children and families and examining these rules to see if they have resulted in any unintended consequences.

“Can we breathe some flexibility into our rules and make them more dynamic and responsive to the needs of kids? For example, studies show that children have shorter attention spans … but our rules only count programming that is 30 minutes in length.”

Jessell also said O’Rielly got “a call from an Ohio broadcaster who said his plans for a Saturday morning news program were ‘derailed’ by the need to make way for children’s programming.” I don’t know which station but will go to go out on a limb and say the news program would be much cheaper using a set already in the studio and an announcer already on staff. And where was the required children’s programming anyway? That’s just my two cents.

And BGR reports Pai, the former Verizon lawyer (gotta love THAT!), is still trying to keep the net neutrality rules dead. Those rules regulate telecom companies and the speed in which they get your computer to certain websites, but the FCC killed them in December. You shouldn’t have to pay more and neither should the owner of the website to see it faster. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should treat all data on the internet the same.woman on computer

Now, Peoria Public Radio says there are “several states scrambling to keep net neutrality protections before the federal repeal date of April 23.” Sounds difficult to me because internet traffic, like the public airwaves, is interstate commerce which makes it a federal matter.

However, the Illinois proposal “would ask internet service providers who contract with the state to disclose if they don’t plan to follow net neutrality rules.” That’s allowed through transparency rules. U.S. News & World Report says “The Cybersecurity, Data Analytics and IT Committee voted 6-2” in favor of it today, so it’ll move to the state House floor.”

Also, “a lawsuit involving several attorneys general against the FCC is pending.” There are 23 attorneys general signed on. Gizmodo named them: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and the District of Columbia. Personal note: I don’t see Florida.

Today, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) wrote in The Logan Daily News,

“Right now, I’m working with my Senate colleagues to pass a resolution in Congress to overturn this disastrous decision. My resolution would reinstate the rules that guarantee us an open Internet. With 50 votes at the ready, we only need one more Republican who is willing to work across the aisle and stand up against corporate special interests.
“The Internet doesn’t belong to a wealthy few.”

What about using the Congressional Review Act (CRA) that can review new federal regulations issued by government agencies and overrule them by passing joint resolutions?

Congress has a window of time lasting 60 legislative days (in session) but there are lots of details on how it works, so that’s probably unlikely. A vote by Congress, which controls the FCC, and the Illinois technique sound better.

And last month, Pai “dwelled on the lack of high-speed internet in rural communities,” after his FCC

“rolled back several provisions meant to protect internet access for low-income and rural citizens, undoing a rule that would force providers to at least maintain existing DSL internet lines, and axing a subsidy for wireless service for low-income residents.”

money dollars centsHe quoted an unnamed politician: “Cable companies panicked at [the Internet’s] threat to their business, so they monopolized Internet connectivity themselves.”

My take? They went too far. If cable and internet companies want to dig to serve one person in a municipality, then they should be forced to serve everyone in that municipality, whether they care to subscribe or not. Don’t electric and phone companies have to? But poor, rural people don’t make these companies money.

In May 2017, John Oliver encouraged viewers to voice their displeasure to the FCC in a particularly creative way:

But acting completely different from gutting rules, the UHF discount is back, putting Pai under investigation by the FCC inspector general. (That rule started because it used to matter whether a local TV station was VHF or UHF, due to antennas and how old TV sets were made for the UHF band. UHF stations were not as accessible, so the FCC decided the amount towards a company’s ownership cap should only be half for those stations, compared to VHF stations. It was ended because today’s technology means it doesn’t matter anymore.) Regarding the UHF discount’s revival, The New York Times wrote, “A few weeks later, Sinclair Broadcasting announced a blockbuster $3.9 billion deal to buy Tribune Media — a deal those new rules made possible.”

— UPDATE: The FCC inspector general cleared Chairman Ajit Pai of being unfairly biased in favor of the Sinclair Broadcast Group–Tribune Media merger. —

NO sinclair tribune

It also wrote,

“A New York Times investigation published in August found that Mr. Pai and his staff members had met and corresponded with Sinclair executives several times. One meeting, with Sinclair’s executive chairman, took place days before Mr. Pai, who was appointed by President Trump, took over as F.C.C. chairman.

“Sinclair’s top lobbyist, a former F.C.C. official, also communicated frequently with former agency colleagues and pushed for the relaxation of media ownership rules. And language the lobbyist used about loosening rules has tracked closely to analysis and language used by Mr. Pai in speeches favoring such changes.”

An FCC spokesman representing Mr. Pai countered the allegations of favoritism were “baseless,” and

“For many years, Chairman Pai has called on the F.C.C. to update its media ownership regulations. … The chairman is sticking to his long-held views, and given the strong case for modernizing these rules, it’s not surprising that those who disagree with him would prefer to do whatever they can to distract from the merits of his proposals.”

You decide.

Pai is not very popular among many Americans who know who he is. According to Jessell, he ended by “thanking broadcasters for their personal support during some of the ‘challenges’ he has faced.” There were death threats after he led the FCC in eliminating the net neutrality rules.

At the end, Pai told the broadcasters,

“I do want … to let you know that … I very much cherish your statements, emails, tweets … personal conversations when I see you in the hallways, and for your thoughts and prayers from afar. They mean more than you know.

“So, on behalf of myself, the Pai family, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to you. Thank you for being there for me and for us when it counted. I’ll never forget it.”

That was after, Jessell reported,

“Pai also patted himself on the back for helping broadcasters secure an additional $1 billion from Congress to insure that they will be fully reimbursed for moving to new channels in the wake of the FCC incentive auction.”

So much for helping the poor and the children! Ain’t government great?!

Now to the Israel-Gaza Strip border.

Gaza map

Tonight, the liberal Israeli paper Haaretz reported an IDF (Israel Defense Forces) spokesman told them, “The Israeli air force hit a Hamas target in the Gaza Strip.”

Then, “Hamas militant shot machine guns towards the aircraft, triggering rocket alert sirens throughout southern Israel in the regional councils of Shaar Hanegev and Sdot Negev.”

And Jason Greenblatt, President Trump’s assistant and Representative for International Negotiations, tweeted that Hamas, the terror group that rules Gaza and has been galvanizing weekly violent protests there, must cede control to the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, which rules Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said the army “holds Hamas responsible for everything that takes place in the Strip and will not allow the organization to turn the fence into a confrontation zone.”

This is a better look at the situation on the other side of the border.

Remember, in 2005, the Israeli army withdrew and dismantled all settlements in the Gaza Strip. Then, the terror group Hamas was elected as the Palestinian government in Gaza. There are no Israelis on that side.

Palestinians have been burning tires at the Israeli border — more than 10,000 last Friday alone — at the Israeli border, “to obscure the vision of the security fence separating Israel from Gaza so that Israeli troops could not not see infiltrators into the land,” according to The Daily Wire.

This video, in which you see that thick black smoke, is less than a minute long.

Then — get this! — “A spokesman for the Palestinian Transport Ministry complained of the ensuing shortage of tires, demanding that Israel supply more.”

Muhammad Hamdan: “We have been informed by the Israeli side that imports of tires have been halted until further notice. There is no doubt stopping tire imports will have a negative effect on Palestinians in Gaza especially considering there is a shortage of them there. We are going to exert all efforts so that Israel reverses its decision.”

The Times of Israel is reporting the Hamas-run Gazan health ministry claims, “The Israel Defense Forces has so far killed 30 Palestinians in border clashes over the past two weeks.”

The paper reports, “One was apparently shot in the torso while wearing a ‘press’ vest and filming in an area engulfed in thick black smoke caused by protesters setting tires on fire.”

Yet yesterday, I rebutted a friend who posted this on Gacebook.

fb0

I think I used the phrase “war is hell” recently. It applies here too.

fb1
https://unitedwithisrael.org/arabs-on-social-media-slam-hamas-protests-defend-israel/

Then, I got into an argument with some self-hating Jewish stranger on that string.

fb2

It’s almost 8pm in the eastern United States. That makes it the middle of the night in Syria. The timing is perfect, as I remember from the First Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm.

I’m no military expert, but want to know why President Trump hasn’t retaliated against Syria for its “apparent chemical attack in the suburb of Douma at dusk on Saturday,” as The New York Times put it.

map Duma Douma Syria

— The Times says there’s still much “unclear or unconfirmed about the attack” and that includes what could happen in the future involving other countries, namely Russia.

— In the meantime, The Gray Lady reports, “Syrian government forces prevent access to Douma for journalists, aid workers and investigators.”

— It says several independent medical and rescue groups report, “About 500 people … had symptoms consistent with a chemical attack: burning eyes, breathing problems and white foam coming from their mouths and nostrils.”

— The World Health Organization said, “About 70 people died while sheltering in basements” and “Of them, 43 had signs of being exposed to ‘highly toxic chemicals.’”

— According to medical and rescue groups, “Videos circulated by anti-government activists showed graphic images of families sprawled out in their homes, dead from apparent suffocation. A stream of victims rushed into clinics on Saturday.” You probably saw some of it on TV, as did I.

— The next day, Sunday, “Thousands of rebel fighters in Douma agreed … to hand the area over to the government and be bused to an area outside the government’s control in the country’s north.”

That’s all considered confirmed.

But The Times reports, “The state news media in Syria denied that the government had used chemical weapons, and accused a rebel group of fabricating the videos to drum up international support.” Russia and Iran agree. The U.S. and its allies don’t. The United Nations hasn’t decided and members disagree on how to investigate.

The U.S. is still trying to figure out what was used, or whether the attack “was launched by the Syrian government or forces supporting the government.” I wonder, does it really matter?

And who knows what President Trump is going to do, despite these tweets this morning?

His next tweet also mentions Russia, but for a different reason. Is that telling?

This is far from the first time chemical weapons have been used in the Syrian civil war. The Times says it started in August 2013, there ave been several types of chemicals and it “has shown no signs of abating.”

The Times remembers, President Trump’s response to an April 2017 attack that killed dozens of people in Khan Sheikhoun, in northern Syria, didn’t work. He ordered a military strike against the airfield where the weapons were launched, but that had little practical effect. The monitoring group The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrians were using the airfield again within 24 hours.

So limited strikes don’t work, “but stronger responses carry significant risk of escalation,” according to the paper. Escalation could cause the collapse of the Syrian government, which I think sounds good “but could prolong the war and sow chaos for millions of Syrians. It could also invite a direct military confrontation with Russia, which warned that it would shoot down any missiles.”

President Barack Obama Official White House Photo
Official White House Photo

But something has to be done. President Obama doing nothing after drawing a “red line” was an embarrassment to America and a disgrace to the free world.

It seems “the Obama administration’s determination to close the Iran nuclear deal is to blame for the failure to act on its own red line in Syria.” In case you haven’t realized, I wasn’t pleased with President Obama on the Middle East, I don’t trust the Iranians (and the Arabs don’t either, except Syria) and I had higher hopes for President Trump on the Middle East issue.

Business Insider reported over the summer of 2016, months before the presidential election, the information came from “Wall Street Journal reporter Jay Solomon, who … wrote a book called ‘The Iran Wars.’

He told MSNBC,

“When the president announced his plans to attack [the Assad regime] and then pulled back, it was exactly the period in time when American negotiators were meeting with Iranian negotiators secretly in Oman to get the nuclear agreement.

“US and Iranian officials have both told me that they were basically communicating that if the US starts hitting President Assad’s forces, Iran’s closest Arab ally … these talks cannot conclude.”

And the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps reportedly “would not accept a continued engagement with the US if its closest ally was being hit.”

Click here to watch Solomon on Aug. 22, 2016’s Andrea Mitchell Reports.

jay solomon wsj

According to Business Insider, “Ned Price, spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council, denied that US policy on Syria was a part of the Iran nuclear talks.” I don’t think there’s any good excuse for not doing anything.

The magazine was able to look back four years, from 2012 to 2016.

It said in 2012, President Obama said

“his red line with the Assad regime would be the use of chemical weapons. Later that year, Assad’s forces killed nearly 1,500 people in a chemical-weapons attack.”

It also reported,

“Obama gave The Atlantic several reasons for not enforcing the red line — uneasiness about a strike against Syria not being sanctioned by Congress, a lack of support from the international community and the American people, the possibility that the intelligence on the chemical-weapons attack wasn’t 100% solid.”

Still no excuse if you draw a red line.

Business Insider concluded,

“The Iran deal is thought to be the crowning foreign policy achievement of the Obama administration, and experts have speculated previously that his determination not to compromise the deal affected his policy on Syria.”

For one, I’d like to see Assad’s palace turned into rubble. It would be a form of punishment and create a lasting impression for anyone considering sing chemical weapons yet again.

Please, if you like what you read here, subscribe to CohenConnect.com with either your email address or WordPress account, and get a notice whenever I publish.

 

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Flakes and facts, lots on my mind

Gotta love a snow day if you don’t have anywhere to be. Yes, I have a busy week ahead and things to prepare, but they don’t require going out.

weblocalradar.gif
http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/cbs3-radar/

The TV people were right this time. It’s almost 1pm and I’m supposedly getting 3 inches of snow an hour, which should end up as 6-10 inches when it’s done, and the snow didn’t even stick at first.

The storm comes less than a week after this last one, last Friday.

2018-03-02 snowy icy friday
March 2, 2018

Luckily, I have lots on my mind to share with you today.

From ugly weather (to those of you in Florida) to an ugly video: Monday, Britain’s Independent reported, “The National Rifle Association has released a video containing a threatening message to journalists, warning them ‘your time is running out.’”

NRA National Rifle Association official logoYou see an angry looking and sounding “conservative political activist and TV host Dana Loesch telling “every lying member of the media” that “we are done with your agenda” and they have “had enough.”

She names lots of media hosts and shows. Then, at the end, she ominously says, “Your time is running out. The clock starts now,” and she turns over an hourglass.

Talk about bitter! Thousands of Americans have stood behind the young survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Florida that killed 17 of their classmates, as they called on lawmakers to reform the gun rules.

Click here for more details and reaction to the video.

video games

Also Monday, Variety reported President Trump will be talking about gun violence — with leaders of the video game industry!

According to the Entertainment Software Association, which represents major video game makers:

“Video games are enjoyed around the world and numerous authorities and reputable scientific studies have found no connection between games and real-life violence.” … “Like all Americans, we are deeply concerned about the level of gun violence in the United States. Video games are plainly not the issue: entertainment is distributed and consumed globally, but the U.S. has an exponentially higher level of gun violence than any other nation.”

But a group spokesman says they’ll be there anyway.

The entertainment magazine reports after the Parkland massacre, the President said,

“I’m hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts.”

The ESA — which operates a voluntary ratings system — said the White House meeting

“will provide the opportunity to have a fact-based conversation about video game ratings, our industry’s commitment to parents, and the tools we provide to make informed entertainment choices,”

but their titles don’t contribute to real-life mayhem.

In 2011, the Supreme Court struck down a California law to restrict minors’ access to video games, ruling it’s protected by the First Amendment.news flash

I’m excited about something else. It’ll help you watch out for hidden agendas in news, or media that knowingly publish falsehoods or propaganda.

The Nieman Journalism Lab announced a start-up initiative called NewsGuard that’ll fight fake news by rating more than 7,500 news sources. NewsGuard says it plans to hire dozens of people with journalism backgrounds and have them

“research online news brands to help readers and viewers know which ones are trying to do legitimate journalism — and which aren’t.”

The ratings will be like a traffic light. A real newspaper publishing good content will get green. A fake news site will get a red. Then, according to Nieman,

“A site that’s not putting out deliberately fake news, but is overwhelmingly influenced in its coverage by a funder that it’s not eager to disclose? Maybe a yellow.”

And the ratings — called “nutrition labels” – will come with “a 200- to 300-word write-up on each source’s funding, its coverage, its potential special interests, and how it fits in with the rest of the news” world since the founders acknowledge not all of the sites in a given color category are equal.

websites

I can’t wait for this to start. The folks behind NewsGuard are Steven Brill (founder of The American Lawyer and Court TV) and L. Gordon Crovitz (former publisher of The Wall Street Journal).

Brill told CNN “algorithms aren’t cutting it, so real-life reviewers are needed to judge reliability.”news websites

They say their “goal is to give everyone the information they need to be better informed about which news sources they can rely on — or can’t rely on.”

Analysts will work in pairs. They may not settle on a rating if they feel they don’t have enough information to be confident, or have editors weigh in if the analysts disagree.news interview

Plus, “The company will also have ‘a 27-7 ‘SWAT team’ that responds to breaking news and news items that are suddenly trending.”
It plans to stay in business by licensing “NewsGuard’s encyclopedia of news sources to social media platforms and search engines” – in other words, GoogleMicrosoft, Facebook and Twitter, which could leave out the reds or use them with a warning – and offering advertising for businesses that “want to be spared any embarrassment that comes from advertising on deliberately fake sites.”generic website

Brill said the tech companies will pay because, “We’re asking them to pay a fraction of what they pay their P.R. people and their lobbyists to talk about the problem.”

Good luck, guys!

Rupert Murdoch wikimedia commonsNow, to Rupert Murdoch’s chutzpah and greediness. In January, he called for Facebook to pay for the content his companies – 21st Century Fox and News Corp. – publish on the site, while it’s Mark Zuckerberg’s company that really does him a favor by distributing the stuff! (You can decide how much the stuff is worth until NewsGuard kicks off.)

Now, the U.K.’s The Register is reporting Facebook “abandoned its ‘fix’ for news after publishers complained about a drop in traffic” and that’ll mean more clickbait for the rest of us.

Facebook had added an Explore tab in October, to show us more from friends and family on our News Feeds, and remove professional publishers.

The Register described a few examples:

“Clickbait-focused publishers such as Buzzfeed had benefited enormously from being promoted on Facebook – and owed much of their success to lightweight ‘shareable content.’ But after the changes, traffic dropped sharply. Facebook rushed to assure publishers it was just a test. It has now formally abandoned the experiment, counting “feel-good news and service content” publisher LittleThings among the casualties.”

facebook f logoOn Feb. 28, the U.K.’s Business Insider reported once flourishing women-focused digital publisher LittleThings closed down, blaming Facebook’s huge algorithm tweak.

The Register explained Facebook has “come under fire” since the 2016 Presidential election. First, the News Feed was “hand-curated by low-paid graduates” but “accused of political bias.” Then it replaced the people “with an algorithm that valued ‘engagement’” but a “low bar for inclusion” exposed more “inflammatory and bogus material.”

It also quoted former senior Facebook exec Antonio Garcia Martinez, who explained how viral content was given a premium value.

“Rather than simply reward that ad position to the highest bidder, though, Facebook uses a complex model that considers both the dollar value of each bid as well as how good a piece of clickbait (or view-bait, or comment-bait) the corresponding ad is,” Martinez said. “If Facebook’s model thinks your ad is 10 times more likely to engage a user than another company’s ad, then your effective bid at auction is considered 10 times higher than a company willing to pay the same dollar amount.”

Donald TrumpAnd Donald Trump’s campaign – which spent very little money – was playing by Facebook’s rules since “rural targets were cheaper to reach than urbanites, and Trump wanted to reach them, so Facebook ad spending proved to be very good value.”

Bottom line, according to The Register:

“The results of Facebook abandoning this particular experiment is that clickbait-hungry publishers will continue to rely on the platform for exposure, rather than building their own brands, and Facebook will rely on clickbait-y free content to keep people on the site. It’s a marriage of the desperate.”

mark zuckerberg facebookThat’s not what I wanted to read.

I suggest Zuckerberg suspend all Fox and News Corp. accounts from Facebook for a week. Every newspaper, TV station, news anchor, etc. That should show ‘em!

Meanwhile, Miami’s CNN’s Jeff Zucker accused Facebook and Google of having a duopoly or monopoly on money from digital content, and wants regulators to look into the two companies.

jeff zucker cnnKeep in mind, CNN was a monopoly on 24-hour cable news from June 1, 1980 to 1996 when MSNBC started on July 15, and Fox News Channel went on the air on Oct. 7. (That’s except for when ABC/Westinghouse’s Satellite News Channel competed from June 21, 1982 until Oct. 27, 1983, and CNN founder Ted Turner bought it.)

Sounds like a sore loser. His ratings stink.

Late last month, he tried to come across as a spokesperson trying to protect good journalism when The Hollywood Reporter quoted him as saying,

“Everyone is looking at whether these combinations of AT&T and Time Warner (his own company, which AT&T wants to buy for $85 billion, and may put his own job in jeopardy -Lenny) or Fox and Disney pass government approval and muster, the fact is nobody for some reason is looking at the monopolies that are Google and Facebook. … That’s where the government should be looking, and helping to make sure everyone else survives. I think that’s probably the biggest issue facing the growth of journalism in the years ahead.”

Government “helping to make sure everyone else survives” sounds a whole lot like President Obama bailing out the U.S. banking and auto industries during the Great Recession. It was probably the best thing he did as President. Philosophically, maybe he shouldn’t have, but nobody can deny it worked and saved jobs.

But the banking and auto industries are not journalism. They’re not protected by the First Amendment. And intelligent people will turn to quality news, even if it’s hard to find, and that has already become harder and harder for years.

Advice for Zucker: Do a better job on TV. In contrast to President Obama, explain why you hired so many digital staffers a year ago, only to lay off roughly 50 of them last month – and why you shouldn’t be one to go.cnn

Vanity Fair reports, “Several high profile digital initiatives are being scaled back.” Media analyst Jeffrey McCall told Fox News the layoffs “seem to suggest that CNN may have outkicked its coverage” and Zucker wanted his digital group to “grow too quickly” before having a “comprehensive plan” in place. Also, “It does seem odd that these cuts are apparently targeted for the digital side at this time, when most strategists seem to think that’s an area for potential growth,” McCall said.

And the kicker (rather than “kick ass”), according to the Fox article,

“Last month, YouTube star Casey Neistat — hired by Zucker on the recommendation of his teenage son — abruptly walked away from CNN less than two years after CNN reportedly paid more than $20 million for his video-sharing startup Beme.”

at&t time warnerTime Warner is a big company. It owned AOL – one of the early pioneers of the Internet – until about the time you were hired. Why didn’t TW compete? Or did it, and free enterprise sent the experiment to wherever those 50 laid off digital staffers are?

According to TV Newser, the Justice Department sued to block the AT&T-Time Warner deal back in November, and the antitrust trial is set to begin March 19.

Zucker, get more people to your website and have your digital salespeople do a better job, you sore loser, or you’ll be out of a job!

comcast new 595x227Back to 21st Century Fox’s Murdoch. He got a black eye about a week ago when Philadelphia-based Comcast (the cable company that also owns competitor NBC) topped his company’s offer to buy the 61 percent of Sky PLC it didn’t already own. That could halt Fox’s attempt to consolidate ownership of the British broadcaster. It has owned 39 percent of Sky for years.

comcast
Today on https://corporate.comcast.com/, obviously important to the company!

But even more importantly, Sky is supposed to be one of many assets Fox plans to turn around and sell to Disney (owner of ABC) — while keeping only its American broadcast network, TV stations (you know by now Fox doesn’t bother list them on its Stations Group website) and plans to buy more, the Fox News Channel and the Fox Business Network — in a separate $52 billion follow-up deal.

But Fox was cheap.

fox sky news disney

Reuters reports Comcast offered £12.50 per share ($31 billion), significantly higher (more than 16 percent) than Fox’s £10.75 per share. (Yes, I know how cheap Fox is. I worked for them. The one exception is the NFL.) Sky already agreed to be sold to Fox, but the British government delayed the takeover because it’s concerned about Rupert Murdoch’s influence. In 2011, he closed the News of the World after its journalists admitted hacking phones to get scoops, but he still owns The Sun and Times newspapers.

Fox promised to keep Sky News fully independent for ten years, but faces skepticism across the pond. And with a ten-year promise, I don’t understand how it could be sold to Disney.

Reuters reports Sky’s shares jumped more than 20 percent, while shares of Comcast, Fox and Disney all fell. So if the Sky-to-Fox first part doesn’t happen, investors may expect a bidding war.

You’ll remember in December, Comcast bid $60 billion for Fox’s assets – “substantially more” than Disney – maybe even $10 billion more, according to Philly.com. But Disney’s bid beat Comcast’s. The Wall Street Journal reported Murdoch “was concerned that a Comcast deal would be opposed by U.S. regulators and instead opted for the lower Disney offer.” The deal still needs approval from the Justice Department.

The Hollywood Reporter says Comcast said at the time:

“When a set of assets like 21st Century Fox’s becomes available, it’s our responsibility to evaluate if there’s a strategic fit that could benefit our company and our shareholders. … That’s what we tried to do, and we are no longer engaged in the review of those assets. We never got the level of engagement needed to make a definitive offer.”

More merger news: Broadcasting & Cable reports eight of the 50 states’ attorneys general came out against the SinclairTribune merger. They told the Federal Communications Commission “it does not have the authority to raise the 39 percent national audience reach cap for TV station groups, that it does have the authority to eliminate the UHF discount” – the old rule that discounts the number of viewers UHF stations reach by half, because they were weaker and harder to watch years ago before modern technology like cable, computers, etc. – and that it should eliminate the discount.

That UHF discount was gone until FCC chairman Ajit Pai – a President Trump appointee under investigation for improperly pushing for rule changes to benefit Sinclair Broadcasting in its attempt to acquire Tribune Media. Now it’s back. Critics say Sinclair has forced local stations to provide favorable coverage to Republican candidates for years.

Ajit Pai fcc wikipedia
Ajit Pai (Wikipedia)

B&C claims Pai is “saying the previous commission should have considered the cap and the discount together, which it is now doing.”

The attorneys general are from Illinois (home to Tribune), Pennsylvania, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, California and Virginia.

They – according to B&C – argue “getting rid of the cap would threaten diversity, competition, and localism, and cites Sinclair Broadcasting, whose Tribune deal would benefit from lifting or eliminating the limit, pointing out that it distributes news stories that must run in its newscasts.”

generic tvIn November, The Baltimore Sun reported Maryland’s attorney general opposed the takeover because “the combination would decrease consumer choices and diversity in the media marketplace.” Sinclair is based in Maryland.

According to The Sun, Sinclair claims “the merger would allow the new company to better serve local viewers with expanded local coverage, better facilities and more programming, delivered in part by operational efficiencies.”

The company announced it would sell several stations to stay under a new cap, but the deals it reached would let it continue to control the New York and Chicago stations it sells, so those big cities won’t count. (Is there ANYBODY who thinks that’s OK?)

WPIXAccording to Variety, Sinclair will sell WPIX-New York for a measly $15 million to Cunningham Broadcasting. More than 90 percent of that company’s stock is controlled by trusts owned by the estate of Carolyn Smith, the late wife of Sinclair founder Julian Smith and mother of Sinclair chairman David Smith. So the Smith children own it. Talk about a shell corporation! Cunningham owns 20 stations but at least 14 of them are run by Sinclair!

WGN-TVAnd it would sell WGN-TV Chicago for just $60 million to Steven B. Fader, chairman of Baltimore-based Atlantic Capital Group and business partner of David Smith in Atlantic Automotive Corp.

Those stations are worth hundreds of millions of dollars, maybe a half-billion.

On top of that, Variety says,

“Sinclair would not only continue to operate the stations and receive the lion’s share of their revenue, but the sale agreement with both buyers gives Sinclair an option to buy the stations back within eight years. That’s seen as a marker for the company to bide its time in the hopes that the FCC relaxes its station ownership restrictions in the near future.”

The $3.9 billion deal – if it goes through – would make the nation’s largest television broadcast company even larger. Sinclair is already largest with 191 stations, while Tribune brings another 42 stations before divestitures. The post-merger reach would be 72 percent of U.S. homes. (Does that include the huge markets of New York and Chicago?)

This is something I didn’t consider in my last blog, about the possibility Fox buys Miami’s CW affiliate WSFL due to the merger, even though it doesn’t produce news, and gives up strong affiliate WSVN – simply to own a Miami station since Miami has an NFL team, the Dolphins. TVNewsCheck‘s editor Harry Jessell reported, “Fox has one other obvious option in Miami. It could buy ABC affiliate WPLG.” Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway bought it from Graham Media (the former Post-Newsweek) in 2014, and it’s Buffett’s only station.

I’m sure Buffett makes money but he has no vertical integration. Graham was supposed to help run the station after the sale, and it still has a Graham station look. So does its website. Also, Buffett is not the type to get attached (except maybe to Omaha) and would be willing to cash out of the price is right.

If he sells WPLG to Fox, then it makes sense ABC would probably call WSVN. Makes the most sense by far, but I wouldn’t swear on anything. In 1988, CBS seemingly surprised everyone by buying the former WCIX instead of affiliating with WSVN.

Jessell also reported he spoke to Ansin who said Fox hasn’t mentioned anything about “moving into the market and no expression of interest in WSVN.”

I also want to point out another example of a TV network not renewing a local TV station’s affiliation because it competed for viewers in part of a city where the network owned its own station. The last blog mentioned NBC getting rid of WMGM in Atlantic City because of its Philadelphia station, WCAU, and how ABC was much nicer years earlier when it paid the owner of KNTV in San Jose to leave the network because it owned KGO-TV in San Francisco. (WMGM shut down its news department.)

Since then, I remembered NBC dropped WHAG (now WDVM) in Hagerstown, Md., in the middle of 2016 because of Washington, DC’s WRC. Since then, the independent station really became competition, expanding its coverage area by 1.2 million households, also serving Chambersburg, Pa., Martinsburg, W.V. and Winchester, Va.

Also, I learned NBC dropped KENV-DT in Elko, Nev., which served a lot of the Nevada side of the Salt Lake City market. It aired its own news, but was run out of Sinclair NBC affiliate KRNV in Reno. That goliath Sinclair also owns three stations in Salt Lake City, but not the NBC affiliate. KENV is actually owned by Cunningham Broadcasting, and it shut down its news department.

wkptAnd then I remembered something similar in the Tri-Cities of TN/VA, where I used to work. ABC dropped affiliate WKPT, the only TV station owned by Holston Valley Broadcasting. Yes, the station was weak. But no, there weren’t any other local stations that carried news. And no, ABC couldn’t get one of the two that did to change over to ABC. Instead, it made a deal to put ABC on the CBS affiliate’s subchannel! That shows it pays to be big and powerful (in contrast to what happened at Ed Ansin’s two stations in Miami and Boston), and that networks have a lot more possibilities for affiliates when it comes to subchannels. It’s not a good idea to get on their bad side. WKPT dropped local news and I showed you the unbelievable farewell to the main anchor just before that happened!

Thursday Night Football logoAnd Jessell also wrote he’s hearing “Fox is once again pushing the idea that it should represent its affiliates in all retrans negotiation.” That means instead of each station demanding money from cable and satellite companies to carry them, Fox would do the work for them all and send each station its share. It would carry the power of nearly 200 stations, and those stations won’t have to bother negotiating. Of course, Fox would also carry power over the stations, and the network’s opinion is its programming (sports) makes the stations worth more and will take its share. Plus, somebody has to pay for Thursday Night Football!

For me, it was nice peeking out the window and watching the snowstorm as I wrote, but like this blog, and certain stations’ newscasts, it appears to be over.

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http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/cbs3-radar/

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