Suffolk Closeup: Cablevison deal means McMedia is here


Once there were many cable TV companies on Long Island, just as once there were two actively competing daily newspapers.

But in recent years there’s been Cablevision, dominating cable TV here, as well as controlling Newsday, the only daily newspaper now published on Long Island, which it bought for $650 million in 2008.

However, last week came the announcement that Cablevision is selling most of its media assets to a huge multinational company, Altice of France. The sale, with a price tag of $17.7 billion, includes Cablevision’s Long Island TV operation plus Newsday.

What will it mean for you?

The basis for a free press is that there are different voices, a variety of thought and discussion from which people can choose, a “free marketplace of ideas,” as British philosopher John Stuart Mill put it four centuries ago. A narrowing of media, a monopolization of the press, flies in the face of this bedrock concept of liberty.

There are still, thankfully, plenty of independent weekly newspapers on Long Island, like the Reporter. But the multiplicity in radio station ownership we once had has been undercut by the Federal Communication Commission’s “deregulation” of radio and TV. Huge corporations, led by Clear Channel, have been gobbling up radio stations here and elsewhere, with the result that news programing at most stations, here and elsewhere, has been cut.

Long Island’s lone PBS TV station, WLIW/21, has been taken over by WNET/13 of New York City. We have never had a VHF station (channels up to 13).

There’s been a revolutionary rise of “new media” linked to the Internet and other local, national and global platforms, plus all kinds of websites, along with video outlets such as YouTube and streaming services like Netflix and others.

Still, daily newspapers and cable TV are major media players — consider how last week the GOP presidential candidates’ debate was broadcast on CNN and the prior one on the Fox cable news channel.

How will Cablevision’s new owners, Altice, change Long Island cable TV and Newsday?
Cablevision has been far from perfect. As a journalism professor teaching media ethics, I’ve been astonished to see two highly active Long Island lobbyists who are closely associated with Cablevision.

Arthur “Jerry” Kremer of Bridgehampton, despite being a lobbyist with clients including the tobacco industry and PSEG, has been allowed for nearly 20 years to be News 12’s political analyst. Former Suffolk County Executive Patrick Halpin, another lobbyist, hosts a show presenting government figures.

Still, Charles Dolan, who in 1971 founded HBO, the first premium programming service in cable TV — he later made a killing selling it to Time Life — has a sense of how a central mission of journalism is to watchdog and to challenge power.

Under Mr. Dolan, now 88, and his family-owned Cablevision, there has been much investigative reporting at Newsday. Almost every day there’s a solid, well-researched expose. Mr. Dolan is a native of Cleveland, where I was inspired to get into journalism and focus on investigative reporting as a result of an internship through Antioch College at the Cleveland Press.

At a Press Club of Long Island function several years ago, I shared this experience with Mr. Dolan and he reflected on the great respect he had for the Cleveland Press and its crusading editor back then, Louis Seltzer.

The roots of this go way back — the Cleveland Press was the first newspaper of publisher E.W. Scripps, prominent in the muckraking era.

Will there be that same spirit with ownership by Altice?

It’s a serious question. Although Cablevision, started by Mr. Dolan on Long Island in 1973 with 1,500 subscribers, has spread into Connecticut, New Jersey and Westchester County, it’s based in Bethpage and Mr. Dolan resides in Oyster Bay. Now we have a company providing cable TV on Long Island headquartered in France with operations there and in Belgium, Luxembourg, Portugal, Switzerland, the French West Indies and the Dominican Republic.

It’s McMedia time.

Will Altice even hold on to Newsday? The Dolans saw a synergy between Newsday and Cablevision’s News 12. If Altice moves to sell Newsday, who will buy it?

Anther serious question. Consider that Mortimer Zuckerman recently gave up on trying to sell his New York Daily News. And daily newspapers all over this country have been closed or converted to digital publication.