We Have A Competitive Media Market And The Fewer Regulations

The ‘Big Media’ Myth (washingtonpost.com)
The concept of “media” is changing faster than regulations could ever hope to keep up. We did away with the so-called “Fairness Doctrine” in the 1980’s and the result has been an explosion in the talk radio market, mostly on the AM frequencies which aren’t suitable for music.

We’ve seen the number of all-news channels go from one to three in the past ten years. This doesn’t even include the blogosphere, which is playing an increasing role in how people receive news. If you don’t like cable you can choose satellite. All of this occurred without any federal guidance and regulations, which generally tend to favor existing players to the exclusion of new entrants.

Given the explosion in new media in the last couple of decades, only an idiot could believe “free speech” is imperiled by concentration of ownership. If you disagree, you can start up a blog in a matter of minutes and voice your opinion, thus undermining your own assertion.

Our public debates often fly off into the wild blue yonder of fantasy. So it’s been with the Federal Communications Commission’s new media-ownership rules. We’re told that unless the FCC’s decision is reversed, it will worsen the menacing concentration of media power and that this will — to exaggerate only slightly — imperil free speech, the diversity of opinion and perhaps democracy itself. All this is more than overwrought; it misrepresents reality.

In the past 30 years media power has splintered dramatically; people have more choices than ever. Travel back to 1970. There were only three major TV networks (ABC, CBS, NBC); now, there’s a fourth (Fox). Then, there was virtually no cable TV; now 68 percent of households have it. Then, FM radio was a backwater; now there are 5,892 FM stations, up from 2,196 in 1970. Then, there was only one national newspaper (the Wall Street Journal); now there are two more (USA Today and the New York Times).

If you don’t like radio, you can listen to a Walkman or pop a CD in your car player; in 1970, people had only bulky stereo systems. The alternative to TV is the VCR (85 percent of households) or, increasingly, the DVD player. Then there’s the Internet: everything from foreign news sites to chess to pornography.

The idea that “big media” has dangerously increased its control over our choices is absurd. Yet large parts of the public, including journalists and politicians, believe religiously in this myth. They confuse size with power. It’s true that some gigantic media companies are getting even bigger at the expense of other media companies. But it’s not true that their power is increasing at the public’s expense.

I find it ridiculous that anyone could argue that choice among media has been decreasing when the exact opposite is true. Anyone that thinks otherwise has been living on another planet.

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