Tune into the FCC show Monday | SummitDaily.com

Tune into the FCC show Monday

As we stumble our way from Afghanistan and through Iraq toward a California courtroom for the Laci Peterson trial, it may serve us well to make a pit stop in Washington on Monday.

It is then that five people, Michael Powell, Kathleen Abernathy, Kevin Martin, Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, three Republicans and two Democrats, respectively, are expected to vote along party lines to relax media ownership rules.

This means the vast majority of what you read, watch and hear in the near future very possibly could be channeled through a tiny number of conduits concentrated in the hands of a very mighty few.

“At stake is who will control the gateways to the media, who will control the content of media and for what purposes,” the Associated Press reported Copps as saying Monday.

Basically, if five companies own 95 percent of the country’s media outlets, the amount of national news you receive could be significantly compromised as those companies pool assets to provide a one-size-fits-all report broadcast generically via hundreds of stations across the U.S. Your local news could suffer as well as companies realize the cost effectiveness of producing more generalized regional coverage that can be used simultaneously in a variety of local markets.

The current regulations are designed to subvert this. Still, there are considerably convincing arguments for relaxing the regulation.

First, it could increase the resources available to each of those five companies in their quest for the more expensive, global stories. The cost of sending a single reporter to Iraq, for example, is so high that only very wealthy media companies can afford it.

Theoretically, larger companies would facilitate not only the mobilization of whole teams that can react powerfully to huge breaking news events, but also the stationing of bureaus in other, less-publicized hot spots such as Argentina and the Congo. This could provide a solid foundation of knowledge and coverage should these places suddenly explode.

Second, there’s free enterprise. It’s hard to argue the government has any place in dictating the free and fair growth of any business.

I would personally argue everything has its limits. Media companies outgrow their britches when it is no longer about news but about the quarterly earnings reports.

This plays into the age-old notion that broadcasters have a special obligation to serve the public interest, given that the public owns the airways over which media companies distribute their product. However, public interest is a nebulous thing. So is the intersection where it meets with the concepts of quality and a diversified media product.

Choice is relative and quality is an almost impossible thing to quantify, notes the media legal scholar Craig LaMay.

The author of a recent Carnegie Corporation report titled “Broadcasting and the Public Interest,” LaMay notes this makes it difficult to argue the diffusion of media outlets has not, indeed, increased the choices available to the consumer, enhanced the value of programming and furthered public interest programming.

“There’s a lot more out there and some of it is really excellent,” he said. “The question is, is it the right stuff? Does it promote democratic discourse, or is it overwhelmingly reality TV and screaming talk shows and one-source-

journalism? Is it the kind of news and journalism the public needs?”

That leads into the deregulators’ first argument – that consolidation will increase newsroom resources, thereby enhancing the quality available.

First, let me first wonder how many people, on Sept. 10, 2001, knew Osama bin Laden’s name or that the Taliban was in power in Afghanistan. How many people knew Gary Condit’s? Or that he had once had an assistant named Chandra Levy?

Prior to Sept. 11, we were already stuck fast in an unprecedented period of media consolidation. From 1980 to 2000, despite a previous skyrocketing of both the numbers of new media outlets and owners, ownership growth rates fell stagnant while new outlets continued to sprout.

Disney bought ABC. Time Warner bought CNN. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. which owns Fox, bought everything it could get its hands on.

In the meantime, salacious sex scandals, trite partisan bickering and vacuous talking heads filled the ever-shrinking space of a television news screen barraged by scrolling tickers pandering inane factoids as substantive informational fodder to an increasingly passive public.

Did the consolidation trends then current bring us a greater awareness of the world around us? Nineteen men on four planes provided us with a resounding no.

Will further consolidation change things?

Argentina is crumbling and more than 3 million people have died in the civil strife wracking the Congo in the past four years alone.

I haven’t heard much about that on the evening news lately.

Aidan Leonard can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at aleonard@summitdaily.com.

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