Dispersed Media Ownership

edwin_baker.jpg Here’s a point that somebody needed to spell out:
The Federal Communications Commission is considering whether to reduce restrictions on broadcast-station ownership, an action that would permit greater media and press concentration.

This is a bad idea. Bad for audiences, for citizens, and for democracy. Dispersed media ownership, ideally local ownership, serves democratic values, while conglomerate ownership and media mergers, which would be the result of reduced ownership restrictions, do the opposite.

Equality — one person one vote — provides the proper standard for the distribution of power and voice in a democracy. Maximum dispersal of media ownership can enable more people to identify a media entity as in some sense speaking for and to them.

Dispersed ownership also reduces the danger of inordinate, potentially demagogic power in the public sphere. As the FCC once recognized, many owners creates more independent decision makers who can devote journalistic resources to investigative reports. Finally, dispersal reduces — without eliminating — potential conflicts of interests between journalism and an owner’s economic interests.

In contrast, media mergers put papers and broadcasters into the hands of executives whose career advancement depends on maximizing profits. Mergers require owners to squeeze out more profits to pay off debt created by the high bid made to secure the purchase. As too many recent examples show, the most consistent method to reduce expenses is to fire journalists.

Dispersed media ownership serves democratic values By C. Edwin Baker, Los Angeles Times, 10 September 2007

There’s more. It’s all good. And it’s by a law professor who has written a book on the subject, so he appears to have researched it.

You know, when Ben Franklin started up a chain of printing shops and newspapers along the Atlantic coast, and when he set up the colonial postal service, he enabled a culture of lively newspaper, pamphlet, and letter communication that bound together colonies and let him communicate with his scientific peers on the other side of the Atlantic. This culture of communication received Adam Smith as readily as Thomas Paine.

The Internet increasingly serves a similar purpose these days, but that doesn’t mean that we need to do without independent newspapers or TV or radio. Quite the opposite: that’s where much of the content that we get through the Internet via Google or Yahoo! or ask.com comes from. Even less do we need traditional media consolidation spreading even further to the Internet than it already has.

As CCVM says: “If you only read one piece on the subject, this should be the one”.