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Guest Commentary: Who’s Being Protected?

Jun 2, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Our nation has chosen to protect the environment; these regulations are for the public good.

Our nation has chosen to protect the flying public; these regulations are for the public good.

Our nation has chosen to protect the public from untested pharmaceutical products; these regulations are for the public good.

Our nation has chosen to regulate energy; these regulations are for the public good.

The heavyweight championship of the world is scheduled for June 2 in Washington. In one corner we will find the major media companies (AOL, GE, Disney, News Corp., Viacom), and in the other corner we will find the best interests of the citizens of the United States of America. The referee for this event will be the Federal Communications Commission, led by Chairman Michael Powell. There will be four judges: Commissioners Copps, Abernathy, Adelstein and Martin.

The elimination or increase of the station caps will be a win for the major media companies and their lobbyists and a loss for the citizens of the United States. Major changes in cross-ownership will be another win for the major media companies and their lobbyists and yet another loss for the citizens of the United States.

Why are these changes necessarily good for the major media companies and not in the best interests of the citizens of the United States? Chairman Powell and his cohorts would like to sell America on the notion that the existence of cable, satellite and the Internet make it unnecessary to continue to restrict the major media companies from owning everything else, notwithstanding the fact that they are owners of all the broadcast networks and cable-news networks.

Let’s assume that Chairman Powell is correct. How do these actions benefit our country? I have yet to hear the chairman tell us how this would help society. He tells us these regulations are unnecessary in today’s media world. However, America should have as many diverse media outlets as possible. There is no freedom of the press where the presses are owned by a small number of people.

If we assume that Chairman Powell is wrong, what will happen to the diversity of information and entertainment provided by newspapers not owned by broadcasters? If he’s wrong, will stations owned by the major media companies deliver the same message sent by their corporate owners? Wouldn’t America be better served by having broadcast networks that don’t own any stations, so that each station could speak to its broadcast constituents in its own voice and not have to look to corporate headquarters for approval? Hasn’t the commission espoused localism in the past? We are stuck with a system that serves the major media companies and their profitability but does NOT serve the interests of localism, diversity and the public.

The winner of the heavyweight championship will certainly be the major media companies and not the best interest of the citizens of our country. And who would want to bet that the FCC, which appears to endorse virtually everything the major media companies want, will allow one of the five companies to buy and operate the networks of some of the other major media companies, claiming they have no choice if they are to fend off the encroachment of cable, satellite and Internet services and continue to serve the best interest of the citizens of this country.

Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein is opposed to the chairman in this matter and wishes to delay the Commission’s June 2 date to have more time for public comment.

When I watch broadcast television tonight, I’ll try not to think about General Electric, Viacom, Disney, News Corp. or AOL, but this will be difficult.

Norman Horowitz is a media consultant; former president of Columbia Pictures Television Worldwide Distribution, Polygram Television and MGM/UA Telecommunications; and a former CBS/Viacom executive.