Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Powell on Media Ownership

I haven't posted about the media ownership debate in a while. Here are some excerpts from a recent interview with Michael Powell:
The Gartner Fellows: Michael K. Powell's Interview:


A message that seems to be finding traction is that the Commission doesn't seem to be consistently applying a competitive spirit to its undertakings, but now wants to regulate content. What's going on?


Here's the truth: the ownership debate is about nothing but content. Don't be fooled. I mean, this is my greatest warning to the American public. It's easy to go after every ill in society by claiming it's the media's fault. It's the American pastime, right? Anything you don't like, it's the media's fault.

What scared me in that debate is that it's not about the ownership rules at all. The vast majority of people don't even know what the rules say, to be perfectly candid. Name all six of them. Name what they actually do. Nobody can. They became a stalking horse for a debate about the role of media in our society. I can expect and understand consumer anger and anxiety about that. But the ownership rules are not the cause or the cure. It was really an invitation for people with particular viewpoints to push for a thumb on the scale, for content in a direction that people preferred.

The danger with that? It's easy to say, 'I'm comfortable with that when the government's doing it for something I like. But I get really scared when it's something I don't.' And what is juxtaposed against the media ownership debate? Indecency, which maybe is what you mean by content. Hollywood was happy to beat up on ownership liberalization because they want the government to intervene so we can promote more independent programming -- which is content. But the same Hollywood says the government can't say that Howard Stern can't say the F word, because that's censorship and inappropriate.


What's your response?


First of all, there's a separate response for indecency, since Congress has passed a statute and the Supreme Court upheld it. So I don't have any choice other than to believe that it is a constitutionally permissible restriction that the people, through their representatives, have imposed as a matter of law.

But if you're outraged by that, you've got to be principled all the way through. You can't pick when it aligns with your interest and then scream about it when it doesn't. We wouldn't have had as much steam in the media ownership debate if Rupert Murdoch hadn't come into the world. Conservatives were griping for decades about liberal media and nobody paid attention. Now, all of a sudden, one news channel has gotten a whole new community of people freaked out.


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