Patrick DrahiPatrick Drahi

The $17.7 billion purchase of Cablevision and properties Newsday, News 12 Networks, and amNewYork by non-U.S. media giant Altice, headed by Israeli-French citizen Patrick Drahi, worries Long Islanders including Jaci Clement of the Fair Media Council.

FMI’s mission is to insure that companies and institutions get a fair shake from media. One company controlling too many media works against that, it feels.

Clement, executive director of FMC, writing in the Sept. 28 Long Island Business News, said Altice may run into problems with its purchase because DirecTV and other satellite services are cutting into hard-wired TV access and Newsday’s aging readership “could prove problematic over time.”

She sees a possible spin-off of Newsday in the future which she calls “exactly what Long Island needs most: a system of checks and balances within its media voices.”

Hundreds to Attend “Connection Day” Oct. 23

The Altice purchase of Cablevision is sure to be a topic at “The Future of Your Local News” FMC breakfast panel Friday at Briarcliffe College, Bethpage.

Hundreds of media and communications pros are gathering for the annual “Connection Day” of FMC.

Connection Day

Clement will moderate the breakfast panel that includes Tim Scheld, news & program director, WCBS News Radio; Eric Lerner, president, NBC/New York, and N. J Burkett, WABC-TV reporter.

The Altice purchase will also no doubt be discussed by luncheon speakers Bruce Lambert, New York Times; Kieran Crowley, New York Post, and Bob Keeler, Newsday. Cost is $375 for members and $425 for non-members.

Drahi’s Rep: “Cost Cutter”

Drahi has a reputation as “a ruthlessly efficient operator who runs a lean business,” wrote Andrew Ross Sorkin and Michael de la Merced in the Sept. 16 NYT.

Media analyst Rich Greenfield of Wall Street house BTIG, told CNBC Sept. 17 that “Altice is known as an incredible cost cutter and there’s probably some fat in Cablevision.”

The Wikipedia bio of Drahi puts his net worth at $15 billion as estimated by Forbes. He was born in Casablanca to a Moroccan Jewish family and holds French and Israeli citizenships. Altice is the second largest telecom company in France with U.S. capitalization valued at $34 billion.

Cablevision, owned by the Dolan family, resisted efforts by Altice to include Newsday, News 12 Networks and amNewYork in the deal but Altice “insisted” on it, said the Sept. 16 NYT article.

Newsday, sold to Cablevision in 2008 by the Tribune Co., has weekday circulation of circulation 397,973 (2013 figure) while amNewYork, a free daily, has circulation of 335,000.

News 12 Networks, comprised of stations reaching Long Island, New Jersey, Westchester, Connecticut, Hudson Valley, Brooklyn and the Bronx, has an estimated audience of 3.8 million. It says it is the “largest 24-hour TV news network in the nation.”

News12longisland lists 25 reporters and anchors.

“Fair” Media Council Needs New Mission

The FMC, founded in 1979 to foster a “media savvy consumer” in the words of Clement, needs to expand its charge to include “fair” treatment of the media by news sources. The tables have turned since 1979 with media now under tremendous technical and financial pressures which have damaged their independence.

The sale of Cablevision to a non-U.S. company plus other upheavals in the media are cause for concern. Pew and others have documented the shrinkage of newspaper staffs and circulation.

Reporters as well as PR people have to contend with an increasing amount of clout by lawyers in communications.

We have emailed to Clement as well as some of her board members the videos of us being limited to five minutes of speaking at Westhampton Beach Trustee meetings. We were shouted and otherwise interrupted when we tried to speak. Mayor Maria Moore and WHB trustees, citing advice of legal counsel, refuse to answer our questions

The record of WHB outside lawyer Stephen Angel shouting at me is at one hour and 11 minutes of the Sept. 3 tape and the record of lawyer Anthony Pasca repeatedly interrupting me is at 29 minutes of the Oct. 8 tape.

Since their behavior is documented in a video, it can be reviewed just like disputed umpire calls are “appealed” in baseball and other sports. We are asking “umpires” at the Fair Media Council to judge whether we were treated fairly or not.

FMC directors include Ernest Bartol, senior partner, Murphy, Bartol & O’Brien law firm; Dolores Fredrich, VP for legal affairs and general counsel, Hofstra University, and Jordan Darrow of Darrow Assocs. financial PR firm.

Eruv Is $1Million+ Threat

The main financial threat to WHB is the more than $1 million in fines and legal costs it might have to pay to the East End Eruv Assn. which wants to erect an eruv Jewish religious boundary in WHB. The threat was described by outside counsel Brian Sokoloff at the Sept. 3 WHB trustees’ meeting.

An eruv is a complicated religious and legal concept that needs thorough understanding by the affected public. It’s in the courts because they accept that any municipalities that oppose an eruv are violating a “civil right” of the religious group. Losers in civil rights cases pay all the costs.

The WHB website has some of the legal decisions on eruvim but ignores many articles in the media that provide needed interpretations of what are often dense, highly-technical decisions loaded with links and references to cases going back to 1971.

Where Is the WH Library on This?

A role could be played by local libraries in this matter but they are paralyzed by politics. The Westhampton Library, built five years ago at a cost of $7.5 million, has a $2.5M budget that is 95.27% funded by taxpayer money. It has $4.1 million in cash/savings. Library trustees for years have taken the same stance as the WHB board—that something “in litigation” can’t be discussed.

Sokoloff proved how false that claim was when he spoke about the eruv litigation in detail for 55 minutes Sept. 3.

The independence of the WH library was compromised for years by the presence of WHB Mayor Moore on its board. She resigned after criticisms were made this spring.

The Quogue library board includes as president Barbara Sartorius, wife of Quogue Mayor Peter Sartorius.

Although pledged to the “lifelong education” of their communities, the libraries in WHB, Quogue, Southampton and Hampton Bays have no programs on the meaning of eruvim and the threats of millions of fines and costs that might have to be paid to the EEEA.

The Fair Media Council needs to update its mission to include fighting for fair treatment of media by news sources. It could also suggest that well-funded libraries take up some of the slack of financially weakened media. Libraries do not have to worry about pleasing advertisers.