Consolidation - Pros and Cons
As we write, developments in Australia,
the UK and the US, suggest that the governments round the world may
well ease restrictions on media ownership by large conglomerates and,
as may be obvious from the type sizes above, we have come to the conclusion
that the process of consolidation in media in general has now moved
so far that the pros are significantly outweighed by the cons; indeed
we would go so far as to say that the pros have now become almost
negligible except for those who evaluate solely in financial terms
and whose definitions of efficiency are measured within the narrow
confines of share value.
It could be argued that only a large
corporation could invest enough to produce some movies or TV series
or indeed major radio drama but the corporations that existed a decade
or so ago did quite nicely, thank you, on this front. Some would argue
that they did more and were more innovative then than now, when consolidation
has thinned the ranks of companies but probably not of accountants.
But then arguments about democracy seem to have somewhat wilted in the big media organizations (such as News Corporation and Disney) when the issue of profit comes into conflict with their former arguments in terms of defending market freedoms (think of China: think of Murdoch: think of hypocrisy because the only other conclusion would have to be in terms of intelligence and we don't think the individuals involved in making many of these decisions are unintelligent but neither are they particularly principled if one applies the definition in terms of sticking to a decision they argued was morally right when it's going to hit the bottom line hard.)
It receives insufficient condemnation when similarly small groups effectively dominate the media of countries with "free markets."
Again to quote Safire in US terms, "The longtime
anti-business coloration of liberals reduces their ability to take
on the convergence con. It is for conservatives to ask ourselves:
Since when is bigness goodness? "
To Safire, here, we say Indeed so and the answer to us is to limit the march towards monopoly and, where monopoly powers are abused, to so punish that abuse as to reduce the abuser to a status where it loses its monopoly.
Not without warning and clear rules, we would agree. But those rules could and should be much tougher now, not when too much power has been grabbed by a monopoly and the response is a repair job. As always, we regard business as intelligent in general when it comes to facing up to bottom-line risks in the case of violations. The principle of the polluter pays is a good one and in the media business, abuse in certain areas (think of Disney and the future of Nightline in terms of the vitality of democracy) should risk not just condemnation but massive financial losses up to, were a corporation foolish enough to push its luck too far, either a mandatory splitting up or, where the business is dependent upon licences to use public airwaves, the loss of such licences.
We don't think it would ever be likely that, say
Viacom or Clear Channel, would ever face such a penalty but facing
enforced divesting of interests in some areas and knowing that
it was a possibility that all could be lost would, we think, seriously
temper their actions. Done in a context that insists on public
good quid-pro-quos in terms of information and diversity of offerings,
we think that would be a public good: Having a few giants in effective
control of media information or indeed of too much of the advertising
in a market, we think is the opposite.
Any views? Please comment
on the above. For that matter, if you can put the time aside,
we'd like your "Guest comment" pages this year to stimulate
more feedback and dialogue.
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