WSJ lends Martin a helping hand


Most of the commentary on FCC Chairman Kevin Martin’s plans to bring media ownership rules up for a December vote has been severely negative, not to mention wildly speculative. However, Wall Street Journal weighed in supporting loosening the rules so that market forces could decide who owns what. Whereas some consolidation opponents have given free rein to their imaginations, WSJ speculated that Martin’s goals are "less ambitious," confined to repealing or relaxing cross-ownership restrictions. (For the record, there has been no official word as to what will and will not be on the table.) WSJ said that the anti-consolidation outcry is a reflection of "the political left’s paranoia about corporate media ownership," arguing at the same time that the left has "operational control" of public broadcasting outlets.

It argued that "the free market should determine the size of a company," and further noted that consumers have more media choices now than ever before. "If federal media ownership regulations are to encourage such dynamism rather than inhibit it, they need to be updated."

Meanwhile, industry labor union AFTRA is asking it members to fire off a letter to everybody in Congress asking them to slow the FCC down. Among their fears are less local news coverage, homogenized formats, decreasing opportunities for airplay and "fewer and less diverse opportunities for actors."

RBR/TVBR observation: WSJ’s argument would do a better job of holding water if it confined itself to economic theory and the actual situation on the media ground. By using the issue to attack the left, it opens itself to question due to the fact that the loyal opposition to consolidation is well-populated with members of the right wing community. Indeed, one of the most highlighted factors when opposition to Michael Powell was blossoming back in 2003 was that the issue managed the unlikely feat of bringing the NRA and Code Pink together. And on Capitol Hill, the ideological gulf between Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Trent Lott (R-MS) is about as wide as such gulfs get, but there they were the other day, standing together in opposition to further consolidation. Finally, the issue is not whether or not public broadcasting acts as some sort of counterweight to commercial broadcasting. The question is where the line is between diversity of ownership and economic viability. In other words, it is obviously better to have 20 viewpoints active in a market, but not if 17 of them are one bad book away from going out of business. What’s going on down on the bottom of the radio dial or over at PBS really is immaterial.