Monday, August 09, 2004

Who's Afraid Of Big Media? Not Jack Shafer.

I won't be taking any time (in this post) to evaluate or critique this rant by Jack Shafer in defense of Big Media (or in denial of it), but at first glance it seems to be a dissenting view from mine, and dissent is good and healthy, not to mention challenging.
In the long run, competition and the dynamism of markets keep any five media conglomerates from dictating "what most citizens will learn." But corporate ownership of media so rankles Bagdikian that I doubt the variations of who's on top and who's slid into corporate oblivion make much difference to him. I'm sure my testament that for all the news media's faults, its quality and variety have never been greater, sounds Panglossian to Bagdikian. But I challenge him to name a time in America's history when the news media did a better job than it does today. Who longs for the days of William Randolph Hearst? Of three broadcast networks? Of the days before the Internet?

As misguided as Bagdikian is about the perils of media conglomeration, he makes excellent sense when barking about the political games the corporate owners of radio and broadcast TV stations play. If only he'd continued that line of thought in the seventh edition. Nobody needs to apply to the government to buy paper and ink and print a publication or book. Nobody needs government approval to purchase computers and bandwidth to serve the public through the Internet. On the hunch that Bagdikian plans to write an eighth edition of The Media Monopoly, I invite him to read my next column about ending spectrum socialism and freeing the airwaves to true competition.

There's much more to this obviously, the excerpt essentially being the conclusion, so feel free to check it out. I'll be weighing in on it myself in the next few days.

For a dissenting view (though not directly) to Shafer, and you just can't wait, try Robert McChesney's Making Media Democratic.

Imagine a world in which scores, even hundreds, of media firms operate in markets competitive enough to permit new entrants. Imagine a world with large numbers of public, community, and public access radio and television stations and networks, with enough funding to produce high quality products. Imagine a world where the public airwaves provide compelling journalism, children's programming, and political candidate information, with control vested in people dedicated to public service. Imagine a world where creative government fiscal policies enable small nonprofit and noncommercial media to sprout and prosper, providing some semblance of a democratic public sphere.

Though imaginable, this world seems wholly implausible-and not only because of the political muscle of the corporate media and communications lobbies. Over the past generation, "free market" neoliberals have understood the importance of media as an instrument of social control far better than anyone else. The leading conservative foundations have devoted considerable resources to reducing journalistic autonomy and ideological diversity and pushing media in a more explicitly pro-business direction. The pro-market political right understood that if big business dominated the main fora for political education and debate, then public scrutiny of business would be markedly reduced. These same "free market" foundations fight any public interest component to media laws and regulations, oppose any form of noncommercial and nonprofit media, and lead the battle to ensure that public broadcasting stays within narrow ideological boundaries. In short, we had a major political battle over media for the past generation, but only one side showed up. The results are clear, and appalling.