Business Dispute or Censorship?
Terry H. Schwadron
Jan. 31, 2023
Even if your political news habits don’t include Newsmax, an outwardly right-leaning media outlet, you might be interested by its very noisy dispute going on with DirecTV.
It’s a business smash-up that has right-wing Washington turning political cartwheels over the propaganda-vs.-censorship era in which we find ourselves.
Newsmax is no longer on DirecTV, as the satellite video provider decided recently not to renew an expiring deal over Newsmax’s money demands.
Apart from any discussion of responsibilities of providers to offer information from all political points of view, it is luring congressional Republicans with threats of public hearings and constant official embarrassment mostly on Newsmax outlets to pressure the outcome.
Yes, these are the very same Republicans who constantly attack National Public Radio and Public Broadcasting Systems, CNN, and the mainstream news outlets, are now crowing about the need for government intervention to save voices with whom they agree.
At stake for the Right is the continuation of a Republican-friendly network that can reach what it sees as an audience of 18 million with mostly challenge-free sifting of the day’s news with a substantial sprinkling of here’s-what-to-think opinion. In their zeal, Republicans are standing up one at a time to bay at the moon about a consistent campaign to eliminate their message.
From the DirectTV point of view, this is a question of money. Direct TV, which is owned about 70 percent by AT&T, wants more advantageous financial arrangements for a channel that they say in court papers draws only 101,000 households daily, a far cry from 18 million households, and not a real challenge to Fox News, which draws 1.4 million a day.
Of course, satellites reach rural audiences where cable and network often cannot.
Behind the Noise
The yelling is loud because DirecTV previously dumped One America News Network, another right-leaning media outlet, over similar claims of lack of sufficient audience.
Chris Ruddy, Newsmax CEO and a vocal supporter of and adviser to Donald Trump, calls it censorship and discrimination, arguing that “liberal” news stations with small audiences are being retained. He has not spoken about money, though has suggested that DirectTV owners lean Democratic.
Ruddy has gotten at least 41 Republicans in Congress to write, call or lobby DirecTV leadership and to boycott DirecTV. The Newsmax.com website daily features Republican calls of outrage from members of Congress and Republican leadership, including Trump. “The Radical Left seems to have taken over the mind and soul of AT&T. This is a big blow to the Republican Party, and to America itself,” Trump wrote in a post on Truth Social.
Yesterday’s top Newsmax headline was from Sarah Palin who said this is the first step towards a “socialist agenda” for America.
Apparently under the expired deal, DirecTV did not pay Newsmax, and has not since 2014. Because it has not grown in audience, DirecTV says they want payment from Newsmax. Newsmax said it was able to agree on a “modest fee” with three cable providers last year and that it is “watched by 25 million Americans on cable alone.”
These are the type of dispute between cable or satellite providers and a variety of sports, news, and entertainment sites.
After One America was dropped in 2022, the media outlet sued DirecTV. But the information company lost a key ruling when a judge said its deal did not entitle it to a renewal.
Actually, Newsmax.comNews is one of my daily web stops, to see how it portrays daily news events, though I try to avoid most televised news/opinion coverage since they represent too much hot air and too little reporting or useful analysis.
Newsmax lineups differ markedly from the news sift in The New York Times not only in point of view but about what is considered news and what is omitted. Every Trump speech and opinion is top news, but it is less easy to find, say, the headline about the release of the Memphis video cited in the criminal charges filed against police in the death of Tyre Nichols — not something I would consider as Left or Right, just news.
Just what obligation do private television stations have towards carrying not only the news, but content that comes with specific pollical labeling?
“Corporations don’t want to pay money for content that is not of value to them and it’s in Newsmax’s interest to create a lot of Sturm und Drang around this,” Matt Gertz, a senior fellow at Media Matters for America, a liberal media watchdog told The Hill.com. “That there’s some sort of political censorship going on, because that’s a much better story to tell their viewers . . . rather than acknowledging that their product is not worth enough to this carrier for them to distribute it.”
And what is the obligation of our Congress to involve itself in private company journalism?
Local news outlets around the country are failing at an alarming rate, yet these same Republicans calling for a Newsmax life jacket, oppose any thought of a fund to underwrite continuation of local news reporting. The congressional discussion about social media and disinformation is a mess, with desire to monitor for misinformation or disinformation shaped solely by the political orientation of the various politicians speaking. The obvious refusals of politicians from the Right to appear on news shows other than those of Fox, OAN or Newsmax is not contributing to general understanding.
What we have before us in this Newsmax-DirecTV dispute is a petulant display of partisanship that defies hypocrisy.