Hollings vs.Murdoch: Who wins?

Jun 25, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Rupert Murdoch’s crusade to add a U.S. direct broadcast satellite system to his worldwide media empire may have hit a snag this month with the power shift taking place in Washington.
In a ripple from Vermont Sen. James Jeffords’ defection from the GOP, Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C.-a longtime Murdoch adversary-was named chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, a pulpit from which many observers expect him to do his best to resist the tide of media consolidation in general and to tighten the reins on Mr. Murdoch in particular.
The Hollings appointment is unlikely to derail efforts by Mr. Murdoch’s News Corp. to acquire DirecTV, but it could slow the process a
little. More important, it could help give voice to the issue of how the nation’s consumers might be affected by the acquisition of DirecTV by either Mr. Murdoch or its other prominent suitor, EchoStar.
Both possibilities have ominous overtones: An EchoStar-DirecTV merger would effectively create a DBS monopoly; a News Corp. buyout would give Mr. Murdoch control of both content and distribution.
But media consolidation is a fact of life no matter who occupies Washington’s seats of power. And as unpalatable as it is to most consumers, it doesn’t have to be a bad thing-provided the regulators and lawmakers see to it the rights of those consumers don’t get trampled.
Sen. Hollings is a good candidate to aid in that process, given his history of opposition to consolidation. “Concentration of media ownership threatens free speech,” he wrote several years ago in an op-ed piece for The New York Times. In the same piece, he talked about an “unholy alliance” between Mr. Murdoch and the Federal Communications Commission.
Ideally, Sen. Hollings can leave his anti-Murdoch sentiments in the past and help steer the course of the industry based on the current media landscape. It may even turn out that a News Corp. acquisition of DirecTV is in the public interest.
But it is encouraging to hear a key player in Washington talk about doing more than simply rubber-stamping the next big merger.