Media Madness

As expected the Senate has voted to overturn the FCCs proposed changes to federal ownership rules in local media.

On June 2, the FCC passed new rules that allow a newspaper to buy a television station in the same city or vice versa, combinations known as "cross-ownership." Also, the new rules let a broadcast network, such as ABC and Fox, own a group of stations that reach up to 45 percent of the national audience, up from 35 percent, the current “national cap.” They allow one media company to own more than one station in many cities. Finally, the new rules tighten radio ownership rules, essentially capping national radio consolidation. This rule would be overturned by Dorgan’s resolution as well, allowing radio conglomerates to grow bigger.

The Economist has a good backgrounder on why the complex media rules in the US make no sense in a modern marketplace. The core of the opposition’s argument is that somehow the media is becoming concentrated in the hands of only a few companies. However, this argument doesn’t match the facts that there has been a virtual explosion in media since the formation of these rules. These rules were written in a time before cable, before Internet, and before the myriad new forms of media which have now become ubitquitous in American life.

There is no reasonable evidence which suggests that a 10% change in national ownership will have any effect on content. Moreover, the idea that the government should get involved in a determining the content of media is profoundly undemocratic. The opposition to changing the ownership rules are based on a simply unrealistic view of the media in the hopes of strangling certain viewpoints through legislation.

President Bush should stand for a free and unfettered media by vetoing any legislation that attempts to alter the FCC’s proposed rules changes.

UPDATE: Ramesh Ponnuru had some cogent thoughts on the matter back in June that are well worth revisiting now.

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