Tuesday, June 03, 2003

WHAT'S SO WRONG ABOUT MEDIA CONSOLIDATION? Have you noticed that no one can really tell you why media consolidation is bad? I mean, where are the examples? People like Sen. Byron Dorgan can talk in broad generalities and make assertions without backing them up with any evidence. Here's how he argued against the FCC's relaxation of the ownership rules on PBS's Newshour last night:
Well, the fact is the Federal Communications Commission is supposed to be a regulatory agency. They're supposed to wear the striped shirts and have the whistle. I mean they took their shirts off and did a half gainer right into the pool with the big economic interests.
And here's an example of Terence Smith's probing interview:
SEN. BYRON DORGAN: Well, you know, we've already had some of that play out. In 1996 we had the 1996 Telecommunications Act. I fought then against increasing the ownership limits on television stations. I lost. We've had massive concentration of television.

TERENCE SMITH: And radio.
Dorgan continues repeating himself, but doesn't tell us why concentration is bad.
The point is we've had galloping concentration. And I’ll guarantee you that as a result of what the FCC did today, there will be an orgy of mergers and concentration once again. In fact, I read this weekend one of the media giants said they own newspapers, said, "look, in every city where we own a newspaper we will intend to want to buy the television station." And so I just think these rules are counterproductive. They're going to injure this country because concentration in the media, as I said, affects everything Americans see and hear and read.
Really, can anyone point to a merger or instance of media consolidation in the past and the direct negative effects resulting from the consolidation? When Viacom purchased CBS or when Disney acquired ABC, what was the negative effect? Byron Dorgan would say the negative effect was "media concentration" and then stare at you like he's made his point. Did CBS News suffer? Did ABC News? Did 60 Minutes, Everybody Loves Raymond or 20/20?

In 1975 everyone got his news from 3 television sources and the local papers. Now, the New York Times and USA Today and any number of papers can be delivered to almost 100% of the country (but Disney cannot reach more than 45% with TV stations it owns, and that's under the new "relaxed" rules), and there are 4 all news channels, not counting the coverage of issues of public interest from PBS to A&E to Discovery and the History Channel to MTV News. Oh, and when Viacom bought CBS, did it merge CBS News into MTV News, thereby reducing the number of "voices?"

Viacom buys CBS and its ratings skyrocket, yet it owns UPN too. But that doesn't mean they cancelled 60 Minutes and replaced it with WWE Smackdown. NBC and ABC are doing fine. The diversity of programming on cable is unprecedented regardless of the ownership of cable channels by AOL/Time Warner, Viacom, USA Networks, etc. My Time Warner cable systems carries (finally) Fox News channel (though when TWC refused for a long time to carry it in New York City, I don't remember the "diversity of programming" hysterics then).

Really, someone show me some tangible, negative results of consolidation. E-mail me here and I'll post relevant comments (even if they utterly destroy my argument -- let me know if you would like attribution or anonymity).

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