Media’s Big Gulp

William Safire has a blistering column against the possible relaxation of media concentration rules. In essence, the FCC could allow even more concentration in major media markets in which could easily cause increased homogenization in news. Safire defends his position in this way:

Ah, but aren’t viewers and readers now blessed with a whole new world of hot competition through cable and the Internet? That’s the shucks-we’re-no-monopolists line that Rupert Murdoch will take today in testimony before the pussycats of John McCain’s Senate Commerce Committee.

The answer is no. Many artists, consumers, musicians and journalists know that such protestations of cable and Internet competition by the huge dominators of content and communication are malarkey. The overwhelming amount of news and entertainment comes via broadcast and print. Putting those outlets in fewer and bigger hands profits the few at the cost of the many.

Does that sound un-conservative? Not to me. The concentration of power — political, corporate, media, cultural — should be anathema to conservatives. The diffusion of power through local control, thereby encouraging individual participation, is the essence of federalism and the greatest expression of democracy.

Safire is on to a good point here – the media is already sloppy and ill-organized, and concentrated media power is nearly as bad as concentrated government power. The question at hand is this: does this justify the use of government power to preserve competition in the market, or is this an stretch of government power?

I believe that there’s an argument to be made that the public interest is best served by having as many voices as possible. Despite some reservations from my libertarian side, there is a strong justification for ensuring that the media remains a sector of opportunity. As I wrote in a comment recently, government regulation in the market should be limited to acts that are narrowly tailored, equitably applied, and do more good than harm. In this case, ensuring that the media does not become more concentrated in the hands of a handful of companies seems a reasonable and prudent use of government power.

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