Last week the Federal Communications Commission made it much easier for one company to own several broadcast stations in a city, or to increase its holdings across the country.
Cross-ownership of broadcast stations and newspapers will also be allowed.
“After too many years of cold shoulders and hot air, this agency finally drags its broadcast ownership rules into the digital age,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said.
“There is no credible rationale for this odious decision, which runs flagrantly afoul of the public interest,” said a statement from Michael Copps, a former FCC member and adviser to Common Cause, a government oversight group.
We’re less worried.
Had the FCC made its decision in the 1980s or 1990s, Copps’ concerns would be more valid. But the digital age has fundamentally changed the media equation — where three or four TV voices were available in 1985, consumers now have hundreds of options on television each night.
And they have hundreds of thousands of information options on their phones and tablets. As video streaming becomes more commonplace, anyone with a camera and computer will be able to provide local news that can compete with the other stations in this market.
The Star offers several live interview programs on Facebook. That was inconceivable a decade ago.
The First Amendment plays a role here too. If you don’t like what Sinclair says, turn the channel. Even better, another station might respond to Sinclair’s challenge by offering a different editorial view.
The Kochs are quite conservative. We don’t yet know the specifics of the proposal, but it’s possible the businessmen may attempt to influence the editorial approach of Meredith’s broadcast licensees, or the views of the print publications.
Yet conservatives own lots of media outlets. Liberals own newspapers and TV and radio stations too, and digital properties. That’s what the marketplace of ideas is all about.
To be fair, there are legitimate anti-trust concerns with media consolidation. But those questions involve advertising and revenue, not content.
And those worries seem better addressed to Facebook and Google, which control a huge share of the digital advertising market, and not broadcasters and publishers, no matter how consolidated they are.
Americans are in the middle of an amazing, complicated, messy conversion to a digital media future. Information providers and their customers need space to reach that future, and not a regulatory environment built for the 20th century.