Little guys lost

Variety editorial

Though no constituency claimed to be entirely satisfied with the FCC’s latest relaxation of media ownership rules Monday, the big guys got more of what they hoped for than other parties did: Companies like News Corp. and Viacom now have a greenlight to tweak their holdings, by adding, if need be, a station here or there or by snapping up a newspaper chain, or by more neatly clustering their operations in particular markets.

And the debate over whether programming range, quality and diversity will be adversely affected by greater consolidation will no doubt continue to rage through Congress and the courts.

But one group that clearly didn’t fare well in the contentious ruling was station owners in small-town America. These arguably have more need of economies of scale because of the rising costs of news-gathering and the obligation to digitize their facilities.

The new rules make it tough for owners in markets ranked 100 and above to combine forces with another station unless there are five or more different “voices” in that market. The idea behind the stricture was, of course, to protect and foster diversity in local communities, but the end result of blocking duopolies in places like Amarillo or Bismarck could be knocking cash-strapped stations off the air.

So much for looking out for the little guys.