Editorial: Senators on right track with Powell

Jun 3, 2002  •  Post A Comment

A bipartisan trio of influential senators recently asked Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell to examine concentration in the TV programming marketplace and its impact on program diversity.
The request, made in a May 22 letter, asked Mr. Powell, the most deliberate of action takers, to move quickly: “We feel this is an issue that urgently needs attention.”
Bravo, hurray and hear, hear!
For too long now, government-and the FCC in particular-has refused to seriously study the effects of media consolidation and concentration on programming issues.
This request by Sens. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., Herb Kohl, D-Wis., and Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, carries significant weight because of the power positions they hold in the Senate. Sen. Hollings is chairman of the Commerce Committee, Sen. Kohl is in charge of Commerce’s antitrust subcommittee, and Sen. DeWine is that subcommittee’s ranking minority member.
In their letter the senators have asked the FCC to determine “and, if possible, quantify whether, and to what degree, the vertically integrated distributors favor their own programming and/or discriminate against independent programming.” The senators also want to know the flip side-that is, “the extent to which the economics of independent programmers has changed in a way that undermines their viability as competitors.”
We don’t think the FCC will have to look too hard. The vertically integrated distributor Walt Disney Co., for example, had its Touchstone Television division develop 25 pilots, out of a total of 29, for its ABC TV network this season.
And the disappearance from the scene of many a once-thriving independent producer is also easily documented.
In the current issue of The Economist, the magazine argues that bigger is better. “The challenge for the media giants … is to combine the creative spirit, often best fostered in small entities, with the scale and clout needed to finance and distribute the content they produce. … [T]he way they will meet it will be by swallowing the creative independents and growing bigger still.”
We hope not. We say enough is enough.
As the senators concluded in their letter: “Diversity of voices and opinions [is] vital to competition as well as [to] the discourse of our democracy. Given the substantial ongoing consolidation in the media industry and recent court decisions striking down rules that restrain this trend, we are extremely concerned that this competition and discourse is at risk.”
Well done, hurrah and ole!