Rupert Murdoch is beloved by many political conservative junkies
for adding the diversity of Fox News Channel to the cable lineup. But for
those who cherish traditional values, the sewage-laden Fox entertainment
network continues to be a hugely difficult problem.
One of the Australian-American tycoon's latest business moves
was a failed attempt to acquire the DirecTV satellite company away from
General Motors. When DirecTV announced it would merge with EchoStar's Dish
network instead, Murdoch deployed his Washington lobbyists and publicists to
torpedo the deal with federal regulators at the Federal Communications
Commission and the antitrust division of the Department of Justice. On Oct.
10, the FCC spurned the deal by a 4-0 vote, saying the merger of the
nation's two major satellite providers was anti-competitive, the first time
the FCC has voted against a merger since 1967. Now, with GM desperate for
cash, they may sell to Murdoch for a lower price than he previously offered.
Murdoch's army in this fight was a strange band of allies. It
might seem politically weird for right-leaning Rupert to employ liberal
former New York attorney general Bob Abrams. But it was culturally weird for
Murdoch to have the support of the Traditional Values Coalition and the
National Religious Broadcasters. Why would this section of the religious
right lead us into "Temptation Island"?
Fox's entertainment TV arm may have stumbled into successful
family fare this summer with "American Idol," but this fall, it has returned
with more typical programming. Even before the sex-obsessed series "Boston
Public" reappears, Fox will have given the audience "Fastlane," a very hip,
cinematic series about young undercover cops. (The show is rebroadcast on
basic cable's home for sleaze, MTV.) A recent episode opened with a young
woman searching the undercover cop for a wire, including fishing down the
front of his pants. Then she asked playfully, "If I was here to get bent
over and doggied, wouldn't I be barking?"
The show also attracts viewers with violence, including
shootouts with cops getting their chests busted open on camera. In one
scene, masked men invade a house, hold the victims at gunpoint and tie their
hands with plastic cords. One victim says furiously, "In my next life, I'm
coming back as a pair of pliers and pulling off your nutsack."
Does this network sound like the ideal owner for one of the
nation's two leading satellite providers? When Christine Hall of CNSNews.com
asked TVC leader and Reverend Lou Sheldon why he assisted Murdoch by
arranging a meeting with the National Religious Broadcasters, he could only
say, "Fox studio has a long way to go. But Rupert doesn't own that outright.
He can't control (it). It's like an adult son."
Many family-oriented groups have met with and written letters to
FCC Chairman Michael Powell asking him to do something about Fox's regular
flouting of FCC decency regulations. Last February, 15 groups asked that the
agency stop its pattern of dismissing obscenity complaints with minimal or
no fines. (Since then, the FCC's promise merely to take a look at shock
jocks Opie and Anthony encouraging sex inside churches led to their
removal.) But missing from that list of Fox-fighting family groups was the
Traditional Values Coalition. The "adult son" got no heat from them.
To be sure, religious broadcasters have their own reasons for
siding with Murdoch and against EchoStar. They say the satellite providers
have opposed "must carry" regulations, which force cable and satellite
providers to carry more religious programming. The NRB also claims EchoStar
has a bias against Christian programming and features too much pornography.
But other religious broadcasters believe the EchoStar-DirecTV merger could
have eliminated duplication and broadened the availability of
family-friendly and religious programming.
Who is right? In today's complicated merger process, it's hard
to know. If Murdoch swoops in and gets DirecTV cheap in the next few months,
we'll have a better idea. But regardless, the media merger process is now
getting increasingly similar to a political campaign, where regulators
aren't just evaluating the efficiencies of competition, but the political
implications of siding for or against a major corporation or interest group.
Lobbyists for and against a media merger now campaign to line up supporters
and make campaign promises.
Murdoch clearly made a successful pitch that he would make
plenty of satellite room for the broadcasters who added religious and moral
support to his lobbying campaign. If DirecTV becomes Murdoch's new
plaything, and another gust of wind beneath the wings of Fox-like offensive
programming Hollywood, many ministers of the airwaves may have some
explaining to do.