One Cagey Cat: WSJ Interviews FCC Chair Michael Powell

  • One Cagey Cat: WSJ Interviews FCC Chair Michael Powell
    Like many crafty politicians, Michael Powell seems to be hard to pin down at times. This interview from today’s Wall Street Journal does nothing to clarify. Some choice quotes:

    “I take the view that the public interest infects everything I do. Every decision I make, I will argue to the last day I am here, I am taking in the name of the public — not in the name of some company and not in the name of some consumer-interest group.”
    “The thing that often gets left out of the debate is that the American form of capitalism and markets is absolutely not laissez faire. I bristle mightily when I see people describe any view of mine as laissez faire.”
    “Markets are extremely capable of harming consumers, and you need to be extremely vigilant about that. I don’t have any expectation that anyone pursuing profit is doing so out of the goodness of his heart. They will do whatever they think will maximize their self-interest.”
    “Take diversity. There’s no question that if one person owns everything, it’s probably not diversity. It’s also true that if every single distribution outlet were owned by a different person, that would be the ultimate in diversity, but it might not be economically sustainable…. When the commission says you can own two stations in a market that has eight voices left, why eight and not nine?”

    All these are quotes from a guy who is pushing to eliminate ownership limits on media, and who recently gave Rupert Murdoch a second exception to current ownership rules, allowing him to own two TV stations and a newspaper in NYC (For everyone else, you can’t even own a TV and newspaper (unless you’re Murdoch)).

    Overall the guy comes off as a kind of pragmatist, but I don’t mean that as a compliment. He may be sincere when he says that a better way to rationalize limits must be thought out by “creating a better foundation and a more rigorous way of making these evaluations,” but I’m suspicious because he wants to first throw out the existing evaluations and limits before building this new “foundation.” Unfortunately, it sounds like a great way to put off ’til later what you actually never intend to do.

    In fact, I think this quote near the end of the interview is most telling: “I am a believer that there is increasing evidence of serial monopoly in technology markets.” Well, a monopoly is still a monopoly–and in effect, there’s no difference between one company having it for 50 years, or 5 each for ten.

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