Thursday, June 05, 2003

The Media Outlets Ruse

Don't fall for it. From the Heritage Foundation to Michael Powell, the emphasis on explaining away fears of media monopoly, and constriction of viewpoints, is the number of media outlets. This is not what the debate is about. We are talking about media ownership, along with media diversity in terms of views and content. A few corporations owning everything will do what such entities always do - standardize. So no matter how many outlets you end up with, it will be a manifestation of media replication, not diversity. Cutting costs and corners, streamlining production, having your TV and newspaper outlets cover the same story with the same resources, is not an enhancement, it is a travesty, if not a potential wasteland.

Remember, the same individuals who defend the FCC's action claim there is no fear of media monopoly. Why? Because we have such a diverse, thriving, dynamic media already. Now, this is debatable in certain instances, but granting the argument one is left to ponder this...if media is doing so good, and there is so much diversity, which the current rules were meant to accomplish, what's wrong with the current rules, why do we need to change them? Aren't they working?

I just mention that to expose that flaw in the going argument. There is a fear of media replication rather than diversity, and these new FCC rules contribute to that. No matter how many outlets you have, that doesn't have anything to do with qualitative diversity of views and content you will end up with. Outlets are irrelevant. If we have three 24-hour outlets instead of one now for cable news, my response is "so what". Do they show qualitatively different information, in terms of the diversity we speak of? Or is this really more a matter of convenience?

An example. If I get news about the war in Iraq from thousands of outlets, including the 24-hour cable news channels, but they are all receiving the bulk of their information from a single source, the U.S. government, and putting a negative slant on any information deviating from the main source, like from Al-Jazeera, or La Monde, then what kind of defense of media diversity is this? None. It's convenience, provided by a lot of outlets, from replication of a concentrated source, and competition amongst them to put out the information first, to break the news, or Pentagon press release, whichever it might be.

This doesn't mean we get a balanced, diverse and complete set of viewpoints and respectable journalism. And remember, before any of this matters, the FCC needs to justify its action, in the public interest. It can't, and won't be able to, and the matter should be referred to Congress, for due and rigorous public consideration. Then, the games may begin.