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May 19, 2008 8:47 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Media monopoly

May 19, 2008 8:47 AM

Long Island dodged a journalistic bullet with Rupert Murdoch’s failure to buy Newsday. The acquisition of Long Island’s only daily newspaper by Cablevision carries with it its own problems—but far, far fewer than a Murdoch takeover of Newsday.

As a journalism professor for 30 years, I discuss Mr. Murdoch a good deal in my classes. He has had a huge impact on media in the United States, indeed the world, and he would have left his imprint on Newsday and affected Long Island.

“Citizen Murdoch,” among the many books on Mr. Murdoch, speaks of how he has been “determined to be one of those who controls the main channels of information,” and his having “a record replete with deceptions and falsehoods in the transmission of vital information, done either for profit or for imposing his political, economic, and social beliefs on large masses of people.”

Author Thomas Kiernan, in the conclusion of his 1986 book, asks: “And how will he affect our cultural and political values as he continues to hawk distortion and exaggeration in the guise of fact and truth?”

Twenty-two years later, and in this part of the United States alone, Mr. Murdoch owns The New York Post, The Wall Street Journal two New York City television stations and, as Jaci Clement, executive director of Long Island’s Fair Media Council wrote as it appeared that he would be purchasing Newsday, he’s been buying up weekly newspapers in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens.

“To acquire [Newsday], the dominant voice on Long Island, takes Montauk and New York and turns it into a highway littered with [Mr. Murdoch’s] News Corp.-driven information,” said Ms. Clement.

She proposed an interesting alternative: having Newsday run as a nonprofit enterprise in the hands of Long Islanders. “In-depth reporting, such as the type of investigative pieces we find less and less in corporate-owned media, could be nurtured and funded through a foundation,” Ms. Clement suggested on the Fair Media Council’s website. She cited other media run on a non-profit basis including The Christian Science Monitor, C-SPAN and, across the Long Island Sound, The Day in New London.

A takeover of Newsday would have given Mr. Murdoch’s media empire more quantity, but there’s also the issue of his media’s bias. “Murdoch has imparted his far-right agenda throughout his media empire,” states the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

Since the Kiernan book, Mr. Murdoch has greatly widened his media holdings such as by buying many TV stations in the United States—he changed his citizenship from Australian to American because the FCC requires only U.S. citizens be majority owners of TV stations here. In addition, he has expanded his Fox Network and satellite TV services around the world, bought Harper-Collins publishers, and so on.

The ideal for the press in the United States is for it to be independent—a monitor, a watchdog—though this has often not been the case. There have been and still are those who own media and emphatically promote political agendas, though in terms of scale, Mr. Murdoch is extraordinary.

Cablevision, with a bid of $650 million, beat out his $580 million offer for Newsday. The cable company’s founder, Charles Dolan, ingeniously created Home Box Office, making a fortune selling it to Time-Life Inc. Cablevision is now the fifth largest cable TV operator in the nation. It also owns Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, as well as the New York Knicks and Rangers. In Nassau and Suffolk it became—after buying up all the competition—the sole cable TV provider. (Verizon is just now giving it competition.)

Mr. Dolan and his family are Long Islanders. Cablevision’s News 12 is fair. But, oddly, it utilizes a highly active Long Island lobbyist, Arthur “Jerry” Kremer of Bridgehampton, whose clients have included the tobacco industry, as a regular on-air analyst. Will this sort of thing happen at Newsday?

Cablevision’s purchase of Newsday affects diversity—another major ideal of American media is that there should be many voices.

“If you take Newsday, and its other products, plus News 12, you’re looking at the ability for one media outlet to come into every home on Long Island,” Ms. Clement said. “To have our major media voice all controlled by one outlet limits the amount of news and diversity.”

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