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CNN Today

AOL Time Warner Merger: What About Journalistic Independence, Ethics?

Aired January 10, 2000 - 1:03 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The Time Warner merger will give AOL more content to put on the Internet, but some critics worry about whether the combination really will serve the public.

Howard Kurtz is a media reporter for the "Washington Post" and the host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES." Howard joins us from Washington.

What just happened here, Howard, from the public's point of view?

HOWARD KURTZ, WASHINGTON POST MEDIA REPORTER: Well, on the one hand, the average person sitting in their living room may in fact be able to get AOL over cable in the future, may in fact find a bigger presence in cyberspace for not only CNN but the various Time Inc. magazines.

At the same time, it raises some really troubling questions about the journalistic independence of Henry Luce's old magazine empire, as well as CN. How are they now going to creditably cover not just America Online, of which they'll be a part, but the whole expanding, exploding world of cyberspace. In other words, many of AOL's competitors. This is a story that's going to play itself out in terms of these conflict questions.

WATERS: How will they do that? You do CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES." I'm sure you run into conflict even now.

KURTZ: It's a problem for a lot of media companies, Disney and ABC, CBS and Viacom, you name it. It seems to be these media companies are growing larger and larger. But I think this one is in a league of its own, not just in terms of the size of the deal and the way the stock price is shooting up. But in terms of AOL being such an important brand name in cyberspace and competing with the likes of Amazon.com and Yahoo! and other major Web companies, it seems to me that even if "Time" and "Fortune" and CNN make a tremendous effort to be as aggressive and as critical as they can in covering the whole Internet sector, there's going to be a lot of public skepticism out there about whether or not they're being truly aggressive or independent enough.

WATERS: What seems to be happening here, in answer to the question that's been asked several times in the past decade, where do we go from here, that there's now a focus, there is a vehicle for marrying these various technologies, and the bar has been raised and other companies now must step up to the plate.

KURTZ: Certainly it's true that every network, every major media company feels under pressure in order to compete in this exploding media world to acquire or be acquired by somebody else so they can kind of be on the same playing field. But you know, it's funny, it's just 10 years ago that Time Inc merged with Warner Brothers, and there are still questions now about if "Time" magazine puts a Warner Brothers movie or book on the cover was that done for reasons because it was really popular or because of the corporate connection. That sort of concern is only going to multiply, as in the case of NBC and Microsoft teaming up on MSNBC and all the other interrelationships that now cloud this particular landscape.

WATERS: So, it isn't, as some see it, a division between old media and new media. with the new media taking over, it's a way of media moving forward into the 21st century, is it not?

KURTZ: That's certainly true, but at that the same time it now seems that non-media companies, whether it's Viacom, Microsoft or America Online -- or, I should say non-news companies, are increasingly now in charge of what used to be independent news organizations. So you have people at the top making decision who are not steeped in journalism, not perhaps as sensitive to journalistic ethics. That could create a problem down the road. but only fair to say in the case of AOL and Time Warner that we should wait and see.

WATERS: All right, Howard Kurtz, media reporter from the "Washington Post" and host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES."

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