The Devil With a Thousand Medias

17 12 2007

By Derek Beres

In one of the more infuriating clips I’ve seen lately, Bill Moyers presents this amazing (and tragic) piece of news regarding tomorrow’s FCC voting on whether it should “relax” rules over newspaper publishers moving into TV or radio in their particular market. After the barrage of requests for a delay in the vote all over this video, FCC chairman Kevin J Martin has declined the extension. A lot of the ire expressed in the Moyers piece regarded this Nov 13 NY Times Op-Ed that Martin published mere days after over 1,000 people in Seattle expressed their dismay that the vote was even being brought to the table.

On the surface, the loosening appears tame. He appeals to the citizen’s sense of tribalism: look, the small local paper is suffering. Allow them to expand into other forms of media. That will keep the small local paper alive. That is, in a sense, what sensibility he’s appealing to. Even the actual change seems like a non-event, one he calls “relatively minor”:

“A company that owns a newspaper in one of the 20 largest cities in the country should be permitted to purchase a broadcast TV or radio station in the same market. But a newspaper should be prohibited from buying one of the top four TV stations in its community. In addition, each part of the combined entity would need to maintain its editorial independence. Beyond giving newspapers in large markets the chance to buy one local TV or radio station, no other ownership rule would be altered. Other companies would not be allowed to own any more radio or television stations, either in a single market or nationally, than they already do.”

See? No worries, we’re promoting the small man, like you. What he fails to entertain is the very basic and fundamental reality that if a newspaper is struggling in the first place, what are the odds they’re going to expand into another market, rather than beef up their online presence, which is a) much more conducive to their existing market and b) is, in his own words, “has increased greatly?” This slackening of the law is geared to serve corporations already successful, that can afford to expand without depending on that expansion for their very survival – which is why the piece starts off with the Murdoch acquisition of the Wall Street Journal to begin with.

As shown, people like variety, for a number of reasons. One of them: it adds to the experience of life. I do agree with Barry Schwartz that too much choice may not be the best thing, and actually limit our decision making in the end. But in a democracy that’s currently hell-bent on “liberating” other countries by giving the citizens options, we have to wonder why we can’t look after our own in the same way. Or maybe that’s it: it’s a one-way street, leading to the other reason people like variety. When we’re only given one perspective, one take on the news, thoughts and ideas of the planet, it shelters us from the possibility. Humankind’s greatness has always resided in the realm of making the possible real, and when you no longer have access to what that means, something is lost. It’s not money, it’s not status; it is power. But not the power the conglomerates are dealing with. It’s something much more primal, authentic and real to us than they will ever take the time to realize.

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