Sen. Rockefeller: News media has surrendered to ‘forces of entertainment’

The 24-hour news cycle has forced the media to embrace hype and rumor-mongering to the detriment of the public interest, according to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.).

Rockefeller used a Wednesday afternoon hearing on retransmission negotiations between broadcasters and cable providers to slam the media for “all but surrendering to the forces of entertainment.”

“Instead of a watchdog that is a check on the excesses of government and business, we have the endless barking of a 24-hour news cycle,” Rockefeller said in his prepared remarks. “We have journalism that is always ravenous for the next rumor, but insufficiently hungry for the facts that can nourish our democracy. As citizens, we are paying a price.”

Rockefeller called the system in place for developing, packaging and distributing television content to consumers broken. He argued consumers shouldn’t have to pay so much for hundreds of channels they don’t watch, citing Federal Communications Commission statistics that show the average monthly cost of cable service increased at triple the rate of inflation between 1995 and 2008.

“Why do we have to pay for so many when our households watch so few? The old adage of 500 channels and nothing on has never been so true as it is today,” he added.

Representatives from the cable industry including Time Warner Cable president Glenn Britt and Cablevision chief operating officer Tom Rutledge submitted testimony supporting Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) proposal to change the rules governing negotiations between broadcasters and paid television providers. Both argued the rules currently in place heavily favor broadcasters by forcing cable providers to carry local stations and packaging them with cable networks such as MSNBC and Fox News that are owned by larger network broadcasters such as NBC and Fox. 

Kerry told the panel that lawmakers would prefer not to get involved with carriage negotiations, but Congress is willing to step in if consumers are hurt in the process as they were when a dispute last month between Cablevision and News Corp. forced New York-area subscribers to miss parts of the World Series. 

Kerry reiterated his belief that the FCC should use its authority to draft new retransmission consent rules that would protect consumers and said he wasn’t committed to moving forward with his bill if other alternatives emerge.

News Corp. Deputy Chairman Chase Carey said without the additional revenue stream gained by charging cable providers to carry the broadcast network, Fox would be unable to continue providing its current level of programming. Rutledge charged Fox with asking for exorbitant fees, claiming that a number of recent retrans deals with Disney, CBS and other content providers combined didn’t add up to the fees requested by Fox.

Tags Jay Rockefeller John Kerry
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