Media moguls may win in 2008

Quite the battle is brewing over an issue many think could change the face of mass media as we know it.

The Federal Communications Commission is expected to revitalize its effort to change the long-standing rule forbidding cross-ownership of a newspaper and a broadcast television or radio station in the same market.

The effort is being led by FCC chairman Kevin Martin. He is also attempting to relax the restrictions regarding the number of radio or television stations a company could own in the same city.

If this particular push for change is successful, mass media consumption could change quickly and dramatically. The largest markets would be affected first and most heavily. It is common knowledge that media tycoon Rupert Murdoch would love to operate the New York Post and WNYW-TV, a Fox TV station in New York City. Samuel Zell, a big-time Chicago investor, has made it known that he would love to buy out the Tribune Company if the laws were to be changed.

The changes would not only benefit the likes of Murdoch and Zell. The large markets would first become saturated by the richest corporations. It would be extremely predictable – just find a list of the most populated cities in America. Once the main markets are secured by corporations, the ownership would then trickle down to the medium and small markets.

Effectively, large corporations would have the financial might to own newspapers, television stations and radio stations in every market worth owning. As Americans, we have already seen the power that a company owning a few cable television stations can wield.

Do we really want to travel down a path toward corporate media?

North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan does not want to look down the path, let alone travel it.

“If the chairman intends to do something by the end of the year, then there will be a firestorm of protest and I’m going to be carrying the wood,” Dorgan said last week.

Many supporters of the change claim the decades-old rule is outdated. These same supporters say that the media have changed drastically since the rule’s birth in 1975. Yes, the Internet, satellite television and radio have come to the forefront of media consumption. However, newspapers and television continue to be the most powerful sources for news.

We already have a high concentration of media ownership in the United States. As citizens, we cannot allow conglomerates to legally take over one market at a time. As journalists, it is our responsibility to report and educate, and being watch-dogs can sometimes be difficult. This instance is not one of those times.

FCC commissioner Michael Copps is the leading in-house opponent of the potential rule changes. Copps explained that the chairman’s timetable would require procedural shortcuts, effectively stopping industry experts from accurately gauging the effect of the change and undercutting the opportunity for citizens to comment intelligently.

A strong democracy requires several specific attributes in order to maintain its strength. In the United States, one of these attributes must be a strong mass media presence. Allowing the FCC to make this rule change not only would be jeopardizing the quality of journalism, it would be detrimental to our democracy.

In the mess of political and corporate nonsense that we endure already, the last thing we can afford to do is allow conglomerates to remove important voices from the equation.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin is wrong. It is our job to ensure that he knows it.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board, whose members are listed to the left.