Tuesday, May 20, 2003

BusinessWeek Comes Out For Media Diversity
The U.S. situation is likely to get a lot worse if Michael Powell, Federal Communications Commission chairman, has his way. He wants to loosen or remove many of the last remaining restrictions on how much of the market Big Media conglomerates can control. Among other things, Powell would allow more cross-ownership of local TV stations and newspapers by the same companies. He also would let a single company own TV stations covering 45% of the national viewing audience, up from 35% now. Powell plans a vote on June 2, and the three-person Republican majority on the commission seems certain to approve the proposed changes.

This isn't good policy. The U.S. needs greater concentration of the media market like a fast-food junkie needs more fat. What we read, hear, and watch is already determined to far too great an extent a half dozen giant conglomerates: AOL Time Warner (AOL ), Viacom (VIA ), Walt Disney (DIS ), News Corp. (NWS ), General Electric (GE ), and Bertelsman. Yet Powell has held just one official public hearing on the proposed changes. And the specifics of the revisions being considered haven't been made public.

The dangers of greater media concentration are clear. Programming is likely to become even more homogenized -- and less substantive. Subscription and advertising rates are likely to shoot up as competition diminishes. Local news coverage, already feeble in many smaller towns and communities, is likely to get even feebler. And in my opinion, the conservative voices in American media are going to get even louder.

This is a crucial week for this issue.