Back to the Future at the FCC

The Federal Communications Commission, politicians, broadcasters, newspaper owners, and a variety of self-declared consumer groups are all devoting a tremendous amount of time and effort to a fight that looks more and more like a Civil War reenactment: lots of shooting and smoke, but no blood and, in the end, not really about much of anything.

The object of all this attention, most recently a public meeting today in Seattle, is new rules on just how much media and one corporate owner can hold. The debate, especially what we keep hearing from the consumer representatives, creates the distinct feeling that we are stuck in a time warp and it, maybe 1980. We have endless debates about whether newspapers can share ownership with broadcast TV stations in the same city and how many TV stations reaching how big of a market can one owner have. Meanwhile in the real world, both newspapers and TV stations are rapidly losing their audiences to new media outlets that are popping up like mushrooms after a rain.

Numerous studies have been presented to the FCC on the alleged dangers of concentration of ownership, but they seem to refer to a different world than the one I live in. Here, the biggest threat of media concentration seems to be to the shareholders in companies loaded down with lots of old media properties.

The FCC has a lot of big, important issues on its plate that are not being addressed effectively if at all. The media ownership concentration debate is a great political show, but mostly it’s a waste of valuable time

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