As Ike Warned: Keep Watch on Big Business

Dec 22, 2003  •  Post A Comment

When President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered his legendary speech about the dangers of the U.S. military and industrial complex as he left office in January 1961, he warned about the power of big business to use its clout to overwhelm other American values. “We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes,” he said. “We should take nothing for granted.”
As we come to the end of 2003 the concern is once again about the power of big business. President Eisenhower was referring to the global arms race, while TelevisionWeek has repeatedly expressed concern about the growing concentration of media. While these companies may be guided by reputable businesspeople, there is pressure that grows with bigness to serve the needs of the company around the globe, which is not necessarily what is also in the best interests of American society.
“As we peer into society’s future, we-you and I, and our government-must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow,” President Eisenhower said. “We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.”
This past year saw some historic changes to American broadcasting. The most publicized involved the battle to raise the limit on how many viewers stations owned by any one company can reach, which now appears settled at 39 percent of the country’s total viewers. Other changes got less publicity. For instance, the 28-year-old ban on the same company owning broadcast stations and a newspaper in one market is now gone. And the 58-year-old rule that said no entity can own more than one TV station in a market is history.
Yet many of the reasons for prohibitions remain. Concentration of media works against localism and lessens opportunity for individual entrepreneurs. It means fewer independent voices in individual communities. It means decisions are made at corporate headquarters, often without consideration of local needs. It means that there is greater chance of the business agenda influencing the news department and of so-called news stories being done only because they serve corporate synergy.
We call on these powerful corporations to heed the advice of President Eisenhower and not mortgage the future for short-term gains. We also hope that there will be more meaningful government efforts to maintain localism and protect consumers.