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Friday, October 06, 2006

FCC Pulls the Stake Out of Media Consolidation's Heart

Good fun on the media consolidation front. The public is unruly... Which is always a good sign.

Associated Press:

The battle over media consolidation began with hundreds of people, including actors, writers and musicians, imploring the Federal Communications Commission to prevent media conglomerates from growing even bigger.

Two FCC public hearings on the topic Tuesday resembled baseball playoff games with attendees whooping, clapping wildly and even booing as the five commissioners sat quietly and listened for more than seven hours.

Commission Chairman Kevin Martin, a Republican, has said he backs a repeal of the rule that restricts a company from owning both a newspaper and broadcast station in the same city.

According to AP, "The so-called cross-ownership rule was repealed in 2003, when the commission also relaxed other rules restricting media growth. But the decision sparked a popular revolt, congressional action and a federal appeals court decision that resulted in that issue being sent back to the agency for reconsideration."

The director then was Michael Powell, son of Colin Powell and hardcore free market moonie. The belief here is that government regulation limits competition, when history shows the opposite is true -- a lack of regulation leads to monopoly, the exact opposite of competition. Consumers are poorly served by monopolies because there's no reason for a business that controls a market to try anymore. You get what they give you at the price they demand.

This was pretty much what a study by the FCC showed -- which was why Powell destroyed it. Truth should never stand in the way of ideology, I guess.

A 2004 Federal Communications Commission study that showed locally owned television stations provide more local news than others was ordered destroyed by FCC officials, and only came to light this week when a copy was leaked to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D.-Calif.).

Three years ago, then-FCC chair Michael Powell launched a proceeding on the effects of local ownership on television news as part of his drive to further deregulate media and allow for even greater consolidation. But the report commissioned under Powell turned out to undermine his argument that consolidation has no ill effects on local news, and, according to former FCC lawyer Adam Candeub, senior managers ordered "every last piece" of the study destroyed (AP, 9/14/06). On September 12, Senator Boxer, armed with the leaked report, questioned current FCC Chair Kevin Martin about it at his renomination hearing.

The report showed that local issues got short shrift under media consolidation. Anyone who thought things through would've come to the same conclusion -- one broadcast or publication for every market is a lot cheaper than a custom broadcast or publication for every market. Why wouldn't a corporation try to gloss over local news if it could? Think of a media on the USA Today model; all national and international, no local.

There are other reasons why media consolidation is a bad idea. Media companies censor their news to protect their bottom line. Check out this story from PBS's Frontline:

After a 10-month investigation in 1992 by the House Government Operations Subcommittee on Legislation and National Security, the subcommittee concluded there was little evidence to prove the Patriot hit more than a few Scud missiles launched by Iraq.

Another 1992 investigation done by the General Accounting Office found that only 9 percent of the Patriot-Scud engagements "are supported by the strongest evidence that an engagement resulted in a warhead kill." (The GAO defined "the strongest evidence" as instances in which Scud debris or radar data indicated that a Scud was destroyed or disabled after a Patriot detonated near it.) Except in 9 percent of the cases, the GAO report said the Army could prove only that "the Patriots came close to the Scuds, not that they destroyed them."

There was one news organization that didn't report this story -- NBC. Why? Patriots are made by Raytheon, which in turn is owned by General Electric. NBC is likewise owned by General Electric. If you lived in a town with only three media companies, you would've stood a 1 in 3 chance of missing the story entirely.

It was issues like these that led to a popular outcry against Powell's pro-corporate media dream. Eventually, it went down in flames. But here's Martin, trying to do the same damned thing all over again and hoping you don't notice it this time.

If the opening round is any indication, Martin was way too optimistic. Keep your eye on this one.


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