Tuesday, April 08, 2003

The concentration of ownership over major media is a huge source of concern for many people (mostly on the left, it must be said). For example, here are links to articles by Dan Gillmor, Mark Crispin Miller, as well as noted telecom scholar Molly Ivins, whose op-ed is modestly titled "Media Concentration is a Totalitarian Tool." You can find also lots of websites devoted to critiquing concentrated ownership (i.e., here, here, and here). And that's just a smattering of the innumerable hits you get when you search for "media concentration."

FCC Chairman Michael Powell, however, is of a different opinion. Here's what he had to say in a March 27 speech:
Whenever media ownership debates unfold, it isn't long before every perceived ill and every dissatisfaction with what we see and hear on television and radio is paraded out as a consequence of too much concentration.

If you listen you can hear it now. It is suggested that concentration is to blame for indecent or coarse television programs -- ignoring that the media was substantially more concentrated in the supposedly clean 1950s. It is argued that TV has become too violent. It is argued that quality of television has declined and that TV is too bland and homogenized because of corporate conglomeration.

I do not doubt at all that there are pitfalls to big media, nor do I doubt that there are benefits. But I do not think concentration itself is the root cause of the quality of content we see today, I think that fierce competition is.

A monopolist has the luxury occasionally of putting aside what sells in order to air content that might be less appetizing (even if nutritious) because its audience is captive.
Such was undoubtedly the case in the era of Cronkite and Murrow. But, where choice abounds in a competitive market, one can ill-afford not to give 'em what they want.' Today, if you do not capture a viewer's attention and hold it, he simply clicks his remote control to find something that does. Or, he turns off the TV and turns on the Playstation or Xbox. Or, he strays to the computer to surf the net. Or, he picks up a paper, book or magazine. Or, he listens to music on his MP3, radio or stereo. Or puts in a DVD to watch a movie. Or, God forbid, unplugs entirely and goes out to take a walk with his kids.

My warning is this: While we are right to concern ourselves with Citizen Kane, we should not use that concern to justify the resurrection of King George. Our founding fathers said little about commercial owners of news and print, but they reserved the top spot on the bill of rights to condemn the government from foisting its values, preferences, viewpoints or tastes on a free people. That is where the gravest constitutional danger lies.

It is said that the public interest is not just what interests the public. I respect and share the sentiment. But the danger of this aspiration, when invoked in regulatory policy, is that it implies a justification to require that the public accept by law what it is uninteressted in accepting by choice.

Quite provocative, no? Powell is actually suggesting that media concentration could be beneficial, and that competition is what causes the stupidification (to coin a word) of major media sources. I wonder what the leftists would say about this argument.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home