Advanced Television

WBD’s Zaslav: “This is a new CNN”

May 8, 2023

Back at the true beginning of the multichannel era there was MTV, and then there was CNN. CNN’s founder Ted Turner, on the news network’s first day of transmissions in 1980, said that barring satellite problems “we won’t be signing off until the world ends”. He added that the channel would then play the old hymn ‘Nearer My God To Thee’ before the network went dark.

Now, Warner Bros Discovery boss David Zaslav is attempting to completely refresh the channel and bring CNN to a new operating level – expanding its audience. This includes revising the channel’s political balance and perhaps even restating the core independence that Turner had always wanted.

But CNN has also laid off hundreds of staffers in an attempt to cut costs. CNN later quantified the losses as “fewer than 400” as the channel let go reporters Alison Kosik, Martin Savidge, Alex Field and Mary Ann Fox, CNN’s VP/News in the Washington bureau. But the on-screen headline losses were considerable: Brian Stelter (host of ‘Reliable Sources’ for almost 30 years), legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, White House correspondent John Harwood and perhaps most dramatically Don Lemon, who made no secret of his fury at being let go from his long-time hosting duties and after 17 years at CNN.

Speaking to CNBC in an on-air Squawk Box interview on May 5th, Zaslav praised Turner’s inspiration as being responsible for his own entry into TV. He said the balance of coverage on CNN would change and this included probably seeing former president Donald Trump on the channel: “He should be,” says Zaslav. “We’re in a divided government. We need to hear both voices. All voices should be heard on CNN. That’s what you’ll see. Republicans and Democrats are on the air. This is a new CNN.”

The CNN staff dismissals reflect the need to curb some of CNN’s ‘liberal’ views on air. CNN self-proclaimed message is that it wants to be “a place for fair and respectful dialogue, analysis and debate.” Cable millionaire John Malone, a major shareholder in WBD, said last autumn that he “would like to see CNN evolve back to the kind of journalism that it started with, and actually have journalists.”

Upcoming in June will see new branding for CNN, and Zaslav insisted that as far as the ‘cable news wars’ were concerned (and in particular CNN’s rivalry with Fox News) CNN had nothing to be ashamed of in regard to its journalists and coverage. “In Russia, Ukraine and Poland we have more than 86 people on the ground.”

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