Media monoplies no longer a threat

The liberty to produce and distribute information is essential to a free society. That’s why we favor reducing the regulations that govern the telecommunications industry, including the relaxation of rules limiting media ownership that the Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote on June 2.
“The FCC is considering allowing a single company to own TV stations that reach 45 percent of U.S. households instead of the current 35 percent,” reported The Associated Press. “The proposal before the FCC also would allow companies to own more TV stations in larger markets and eliminate many of the restrictions on companies owning combinations of newspapers and TV and radio stations in the same city.”
Opponents of the change object that media conglomerates already are too big and would use the deregulation to gobble up more local TV stations and newspapers, limiting local voices.
Two of the five FCC members have requested that FCC Chairman Michael Powell postpone the June 2 vote to allow time for more consideration.
Last week, 100 members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter objecting to the current plan for the changes. “The notion that a handful of corporations and their executives could wind up controlling much of the information, news and cultural options available to Americans should be a chilling concept to most people,” they wrote. “The American public and Congress deserve an opportunity to review and comment on your proposed changes before they go into effect.”
Of course, it is Congress that writes the laws and could change them, or even abolish the FCC, if it wanted to.
But the broader point is that lawmakers are worried about something — media conglomeration — that common sense shows is less of a problem than it used to be. Thirty years ago, Americans pretty much were stuck with three commercial broadcast networks, PBS and maybe a couple of local stations running reruns. Today, they can choose from among many more broadcast stations, dozens of cable channels and hundreds of satellite TV channels.
Then there’s the Internet, which provides not only a national, but a global resource of 3 billion pages (and counting), according to the Google search engine. It only costs a few dollars a month to put up your own site.
The media conglomerates complain about Kazaa, Gnutella and other file-swapping services that avoid copyright payments, but there’s little they can do about it, especially with young folks who have grown up glued to their computers. That’s the opposite of a monopoly.
The expected June 2 FCC rules changes “probably are not going to go as far as some of the critics say,” said Adam Thierer, director of telecommunications services at the Cato Institute. “They say the sky will fall on the consumer. Instead, you’ll see a minor tweaking at the margins. Few rules will be eliminated outright.”
He also pointed out that local media outlets will always provide local coverage “because people will always demand that sort of thing.”
And he said the real problem is not media power concentrations, but the concentration of government power over the media through regulations, such as those by the FCC.
We encourage Powell to continue moving toward a completely deregulated media industry. After all, the Bill of Rights begins, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press …”
No law means no law.