I don’t watch a lot of television, but I watch enough that I caught a PSA-style bit from Cablevision about their spat with Disney over carriage fees for the New York City region. Disney wants to charge Cablevision more money to carry ABC7 here in New York, and of course Cablevision doesn’t want to pay more. The real hitch is that unless a deal is reached, Cablevision subscribers will lose ABC as of 12.01am on Sunday, March 7, the same day as the Oscars, exclusively broadcast by ABC. (Time Warner and Fox had a similar fight last December, where Time Warner customers faced the possibility of losing access to Fox channels.) As I said, I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I am a Cablevision subscriber and the Oscars are an annual guilty pleasure for me, so I’ll be bummed if I can’t watch them.
Since I pay money every month to Cablevision so I can watch TV and use the Internet, I guess I should be on Cablevision’s side. But as I looked deeper into the feud, I come up with more questions than answers. Cablevision says Disney wants $40 million more per year, Disney denies the number but won’t clarify how much it is actually asking for. Is Cablevision fabricating the $40 million claim, knowing that Disney won’t publicly disclose the amount, even if it is less than that? Disney says that Cablevision makes millions of dollars off them every year, and the increase of $1 per customer is fair. Cablevision says that it shouldn’t have to pay more for what it’s already getting, and that it is wrong for Disney to ask for more money from subscribers during a recession. Senator John Kerry says that the FCC should get involved for the sake of consumers, but Texas Congressman Joe Barton says that it’s not the government’s place to interfere in a dispute between two corporations. The Long Island Press ran a scathing story today about how Cablevision is compromising the journalistic integrity of Newsday, its financially-troubled newspaper property. When I visit the corporate websites for both Disney and Cablevision, there is nothing on the main page about the issue, and no news releases on it either. And yet, we as consumers are asked to weigh in with our opinions.
News can be confusing enough, but it seems to get especially nasty when two major media outlets are doing battle with each other. With all of this information, how can I, or anyone else, know what to trust? This is a crux of news literacy; you’re supposed to keep asking questions and not accept information in blind faith, but when you do that it is still hard to know what to believe. However, the value of news literacy, especially with stories like these which can have an immediate and lasting impact on the public, is not to get the “right” answer. It is that you have a variety of information from a variety of sources which are informing your opinions, so that no one news source has a blank check for how you will see and understand the world around you.
I am personally frustrated when I read about the Cablevision-Disney dispute. I have Cablevision because they are the only company which services my building, but I don’t like their service. I would switch to another provider if I could. And it’s also hard for me to read about both Cablevision and Disney both posting better-than-expected profits, and have much sympathy as they spar over money which does not seem to be the breaking point for either of them, whether spent or saved. I am not able to pick a side. Maybe you can, but the important thing is not to let the media do your job for you. News literacy is vital for responsible citizenship, but the responsibility begins and ends with you.