Got Those Consolidation Blues

  • Got Those Consolidation Blues
    I’m beginning to think that the DC Court of Appeals won’t be happy until the big four media companies own every damn cable system, tv station, radio station, newspaper and Internet property in the country. Last week the Court struck down an FCC rule barring companies from being in both the cable system business and broadcast TV business. This is the latest strike against the FCC’s attempts to retain some order over the shrinking US mass media market. Things are so bad for the FCC right now that in an article in today’s NY Times even FCC Chief Michael Powell — himself no friend of regulation — laments the problems the commission is having in maintaining its rules. This article notes that the Court’s impatience with the FCC apparently stems from its belief that the Telecomm Act of 1996 was intended to result in quick deregulatory action, which the Court thinks hasn’t happened quickly enough.

    Yet, for many of us who are worried about the role of media in a democracy this deregulation has happened too quickly. Can we really expect access to a wide variety of viewpoints and programming when our cable TV system is owned by the same company as half the TV and radio stations in our local market along with our only local newspaper? What incentive does that company have to do investigative journalism and to uncover corruption in the political system when it is a direct beneficiary of that corruption? What if Enron got into the media business — would we even know about its accounting scandals?

    This has nothing to do with the free market. A market that is dominated by four or five multi-national conglomerates is not free. It’s an exclusive club that agressively blocks all new entrants or swallows them whole. That doesn’t happen on its own — it needs help, and that help comes directly from our pals in Washington. There’s nothing hands off about it — it’s completely hands-on with subsidies directly to the media industry in the form of campaign ad dollars, in the form of free spectrum space and in the form of legislation that protects one industry from another. It’s not about de-regulation. It’s about exchanging one set of regulation for another. How else to explain the extension of regulation to low-power FM by Congress, when the FCC relaxed rules in order to create more stations and greater diversity? It’s simple, the industry only wants “deregulation” when it suits their needs, and it wants regulation when that suits its needs.

    For more on consolidation check out the Media Access Project’s page on “Media Consolidation/Encouraging Diversity of the Electronic Media” and the January 7 issues of the Nation magazine on the Big Media.

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