Once upon a time, news programs were required to provide equal access to their airwaves to opposing viewpoints on the political spectrum.
That ended in 1985 when the Federal Communications Commission of the Reagan administration decided that the policy infringed upon the 1st Amendment free speech rights of TV networks in an early foreshadowing of the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision that corporations are people too.
It was the abandonment of this Fairness Doctrine that led us to our situation today, where Fox News feels free to ignore its contractual mandate to provide a news channel to cable systems around the country and instead pumps out right-wing political propaganda non-stop 24 hours a day, seven days a week unleavened by any meaningful opposing points of view.
Now, responding to a recent statement from Fox Corporation CEO Lachlan Murdoch that Fox News would act as “the loyal opposition” to the Biden administration, Matt Walton, a former GOP candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates who has worked with The Lincoln Project, is calling in an editorial for Business Insider for the network to be reclassified from news organization to instead be considered as a political organization.
While it may not seem like such a distinction would make much difference to the informational pollution regularly disseminated by the company, in reality, it would create huge problems for the Fox News business model.
Like most successful cable and satellite distributed TV channels, Fox News has a dual revenue stream.
Part of its earnings come from the sale of advertising on the network, an increasingly difficult sell for a network as a clamor for boycotting the channel’s advertisers grows with each outrageous statement from its controversial opinion and fear-mongering talking heads.
Another substantial portion of its income flow, however, comes from the affiliate carriage fees paid by cable and satellite systems for the right to carry the channel and its programming.
TV industry experts estimate that Fox News earns around $2 per month per subscriber from affiliate carriage fees which are paid whether any given individual subscriber actually watches the channel or not.
It totals around $1.8 billion per year in revenue for the network and forms a crucial part of their operating capital that helps keep the lights on in the studios as well as providing for the hefty salaries of their on-air “talent,” according to Walton.
Reclassifying Fox News as a political organization, on the other hand, would change the business model equation considerably.
According to Business Insider:
“If Fox News were rightly considered a political operation, the fees they collect would be considered political contributions, contributions you’d make if you have even a basic cable package. It’s okay for a media organizations to have opinion programs, but by its own CEO’s words, Fox News is no longer interested in being a media outlet, but the loyal political opposition to the current administration.”
“The purpose of any media organization is to investigate and hold people, business, and the government responsible and accountable for their actions and decisions. Fox News is no longer interested in providing unbiased reporting based on the facts since it sees itself as a loyal political opponent of the Biden Administration. We can not long trust their “reporting” as a source for news because of this decree from Murdoch.”
“When a political entity wants to get its message out on TV with political advertisements, they have to pay to have that message air. Fox News must be held to the same financial standard of any political candidate, party, or third party political organization and pay for its content to be on air.”
Going from earning $1.8 billion per year from your programming to paying for the right for it to be seen by viewers would put an extreme damper on the network’s business operations and its profitability profile.
Moreover, Fox News could also risk being ditched by some TV providers as their carriage contracts likely specify that the programming they broadcast fall within the news category rather than the extremist right-wing political opinion and sloganeering that its content largely consists of these days, giving the providers a legitimate reason to cancel or at least renegotiate those deals.
The potential loss of a considerable portion of its revenue stream would exacerbate the threat posed by the $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit filed against Fox News by Dominion Voting Systems for promoting “a false story of election fraud in order to serve its own commercial purposes, severely injuring Dominion in the process.”
If Fox News was forced to reclassify as the political organization it has been acting as for at least the past decade, it would also be obligated to follow political advertisement disclaimer rules requiring a “clear and conspicuous” disclaimer on all of their programming stating that “what is being broadcast is for political purposes and that it is paid for by the Fox News political entity.”
“Finally, as a political entity, Fox News should rely on donors to pay for its programming instead of paid TV subscribers via carriage fees. Furthermore, they should no longer be allowed to charge companies for advertisements. Fox News then must follow the appropriate reporting rules and regulations from the Federal Elections Commission with respect to who their donors are, so the American people will know who is paying to support the political activism of their network,” Walton writes.
That such a radical manifesto is being pushed by a nominal Republican, albeit one with never-Trump sensibilities befitting a former member of the leadership team of John Kasich’s 2016 presidential campaign, is surprising, but it is a solution to help restore truth to America’s news programming while ensuring that truth in packaging laws extend to our nation’s broadcast diet as well as to our grocery shelves.
As Walton concludes his editorial, “it’s time for America to cut the cord on Fox News and let it attempt to flourish as a stand alone political entity. ”
Original reporting by Matt Walton at Business Insider.
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Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music and art.