Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

FCC thoughtlessly approves Comcast/NBC deal in blow to media diversity

As expected, the Federal Communications Commission today rubber-stamped Comcast's proposed agreement to acquire a controlling stake in NBC Universal, which is currently a division of General Electric. The deal which will give the nation's largest cable company majority ownership in one of the nation's largest entertainment conglomerates, is a disaster for diversity and for consumer protection, as our friends at Free Press have described it.

“Such power concentrated in the hands of a single company is deeply troubling," Free Press CEO Josh Silver said in a statement.

"Access to information from a variety of independent sources is essential to an informed citizenry and a functioning democracy."

"While the FCC has adopted conditions, they are insufficient short-term or voluntary fixes that will fail to prevent permanent harm to competition, consumer choice and the future of the Internet. This deal will drive up cable and Internet costs for subscribers, while further eliminating diverse, independent media content that is already woefully lacking in the commercial media."

The FCC approved the deal on a four to one vote, with only Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps voting no. Commissioners Julius Genachowski and Mignon Clyburn voted with the Republicans to give Comcast what it wants. And so, yet again, the public interest is harmed because federal regulators didn't have the nerve to tell corporate lobbyists no.

Ars Technica's Nate Anderson did a good job of describing the scope of the agreement in a post highlighting Michael Copps' opposition:
The size of the deal leaves mere mortals reaching for thesauri. The new company will control Comcast's US-leading cable network, 234 NBC affiliate stations, the Telemundo Spanish-language network, the NBC television network, TV production studios, the Universal movie studio, the Universal theme parks in LA and Florida, channels like MSNBC and CNBC, and a stake in Hulu. Comcast already controls its own empire of content, including TV channels like E! and G4, and it runs the Philadelphia Flyers NHL franchise and the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers.
In 2008, when he was still running for president of the United States, Barack Obama spoke out against big media in an e-mail exchange with Broadcasting & Cable's John Eggerton, stating unequivocally that he believed that more concentration was a bad thing. Here's an excerpt:
Q: What prompted you to weigh in on media ownership and diversity at an FCC field hearing in Chicago last year?

A: I strongly favor diversity of ownership of outlets and protection against the excessive concentration of power in the hands of any one corporation, interest or small group. I strongly believe that all citizens should be able to receive information from the broadest range of sources. I feel that media consolidation during the Bush administration has had the effect of eliminating a lot of the diversity of information sources available to persons who have to rely on more traditional information sources, such as radio and television broadcasts and newspapers.

Q: What ill effects has the country suffered from media consolidation, if any?

A: This country’s media ownership rules that both chairman [Michael] Powell and chairman Martin have wanted to dismantle protect us from excessive media concentration. However, even under current rules, the media market is dominated by a handful of firms. The ill effects of consolidation today and continued consolidation are well-documented — less diversity of opinion, less local news coverage, replication of the same stories across multiple outlets, and others. We can do better.
That statement was made only two and a half years ago. It's now January 2011, and we're not doing better. Instead of acting as a watchdog, the FCC is meekly plodding along, wasting valuable time and ultimately doing the bidding of corporate lobbyists, which is exactly what it did during the Bush error.

If Barack Obama meant what he said, why didn't he intervene and tell the two Democratic commissioners that he appointed to the FCC to torch the deal? Why didn't he put his words into practice by speaking up and speaking out?

There's no question that this deal consolidates more power in the hands of Comcast's executives, who not long ago tried to buy the Walt Disney Company.

Somebody must have brought this merger to his attention at some point during the last year. (It's been pending since it Comcast and General Electric first announced their intentions in December of 2009). But he did not intervene.

We can only conclude, then, that his comments to Broadcasting & Cable were just lip service to an ideal he doesn't truly care about.

That's what makes this all the more painful. It shows, once again, that we can't trust Obama to walk his talk. Instead of forcing the establishment to change, he has let the establishment change him. And in the process, he has betrayed many of the people who worked so hard to elect him.


Post a Comment

<< Home