Josh Merkin|Dec 4, 2017

Recently, the Federal Communications Commission cast a vote to change some longstanding rules about media ownership that could have major potential impacts, especially on local news.

The ruling will do away with limits on local ownership of TV and radio stations and newspapers, which previously had not allowed a single individual or company from owning a daily newspaper and a radio or TV station in the same market.

It will also eliminate a similar rule regarding cross-ownership of radio and TV stations and make it easier for a company to own two TV stations in a single market.

For years this type of ownership was forbidden because of a concern about a lack of diversification and competition.  This ruling lends itself to a much larger conversation about monopolies and democracy, but here are three immediate potential negative impacts for those within PR and advertising industries.

1. Objectivity

Today, partisan journalism is already a major concern and this ruling could further impact the way stories are reported. For instance, even though media are supposed to report on stories without bias, in some cases, bias can still exist.

So, if a news outlet takes a position against a company, political figure, community initiative, etc, then it’s conceivable this position would be repeated across all media platforms without any type of check and balance or counterpoint.

This lack of objectivity and diverse opinions would be very bad for communities who rely on their local news organizations to keep them informed. For PR professional, it could mean constantly having to deal with negative coverage and not getting a fair chance to communicate their client’s stories.

2. Advertising

One of the major outcries against monopolies has always been that they control pricing and it’s unfair to the consumer. This ruling positions media ownership in the same way.

For any business looking to advertise, they could be potentially dealing with one owner making all pricing decisions across TV, radio and newspapers. This puts them at a negotiation disadvantage and threatens their ability to access fair pricing.

The lack of ownership diversity also could impact advertising because certain businesses may not want to align their company with the media outlets due to the perceived slant of their news coverage or overall negative feelings about the people who work/run the news organizations.

However, with all outlets under the same ownership, this would leave fewer options to reach their potential target audiences.

3. Quality

While the journalism industry, especially at the local news level, already has its own share of issues like low pay, a lack of job security and long hours, this FCC ruling could present another challenge on the overall quality of the journalism being produced. Media owners, especially those that buy multiple platforms within one market, are likely to want to try and consolidate expenses while increasing revenues.

Potential ways to do this will be eliminating more expensive and experienced reporters and replacing them with less talented ones who won’t necessarily understand the issues or just simply asking their reporters to take on more responsibilities thus hampering their ability to dig into their stories more deeply.

Poorer quality journalism means more challenges for PR people to not only make sure their news coverage is accurate, but also more possible apprehension from clients who don’t want to work with media out of fear of being misquoted or having false information shared with the public.

In Summary

The issues outlined above are a bit more “dooms day” and look at the darker side of this ruling, but in fact, there are some potential silver linings. Perhaps there is a scenario where a client could get consistently great coverage across radio, TV, and print because of a relationship with one media owner or maybe a media buyer benefits from bundled pricing. Time will tell the overall impact of this decision, but its safe to bet that will see some M&A in the coming years so stay tuned.

What do you think of this ruling? What do you expect will happen? Let us know in the comments below.


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