Dec
01
1995

TCI's 'Citizen Education' Plan

TCI, the cable company that controls TV access to roughly 20 percent of the country's cable households, has used its position as gatekeeper to acquire stakes in many different programming ventures. The company owns parts of media outlets ranging from the Home Shopping Channel to the News Hour With Jim Lehrer.

Now TCI is launching programs of its own, as part of what it calls a "citizen education" campaign--or what critics suggest is going to be a propaganda campaign for TCI chair John Malone's right-wing agenda. (Malone is a Rush Limbaugh fan whose theory of management was quoted in the September 23 New York Times: "You need to give enough power to the guy in charge to hand out rewards and break knees.")

TCI's first show is called, unsubtly enough, Damn Right--basically a right-wing variety show hosted by Wall Street Journal editorialist David Asman. Damn Right will be shown on Gannett's News Talk TV channel--at the same time, coincidentally enough, that TCI will start airing News Talk TV for the first time on some of its cable systems (Multichannel News, 8/21/95).

The other new TCI show, the Race for the Presidency, is less overtly partisan, but it shows the signs of the same old center/right slant--a "media criticism" segment, for example, features centrist Sanford Ungar debating Buchanan Republican Brent Bozell. Both shows will be under the direction of John Andrews, a former Republican gubernatorial candidate and a Nixon speechwriter.

Why is TCI launching these shows? TCI executives admit they won't make a profit; they say they're launching them to demonstrate TCI's commitment to public affairs programming. But John Malone, the company's chair, has ridiculed the idea of corporations investing money in the public interest. "One would be fired as an executive of a profit-making company if he took that stance," he told ABC World News Tonight (2/95).

And the '90s Channel, a progressive programming service that appeared on seven TCI systems, was forced out of business by TCI's demand for massive rate increases.

One can only assume that the ideas promoted on Damn Right and on the Race for the Presidency will generally be ideas that will boost TCI's bottom line.