Re "FCC: Stay Tuned to Public," editorial, Dec. 30: While horizontal consolidation -- the ownership of multiple radio and TV stations by one company -- poses a significant threat to media diversity and consumer choice, of equal magnitude is the threat posed by vertical consolidation. This occurs when one company controls both the distribution network, such as a radio station, and the production facilities that create content for that network, such as a music studio. In the cable television industry, the same company that you send your monthly subscription check to might also own several of the channels you watch via its system.
The threat to diversity arises out of preferential treatment. When a cable operator allocates the finite number of channels available on its system, a station that it owns will get first choice over another station that can only rent the space. This practice, monopolistic in nature, artificially lowers the supply of channels available to an independent station and raises their price. When it becomes more expensive for an independent station to rent a channel on a cable system, it is forced to appeal to a wider audience in order to attract greater revenue. Homogenization thus follows.
The Times (and its parent, the Tribune Co.) did a disservice to readers when it editorialized in favor of ending long-standing safeguards on media ownership. What appears "capricious" to The Times is a critical limit on corporate media power, the prohibition on a single company controlling both a newspaper and a TV station in a community. While the editorial suggests that the courts and the Federal Communications Commission have "struck down" many of the media safeguards, it glosses over how the sweeping deregulatory proposals by the Bush FCC would permit a handful of conglomerates to control the majority of the nation's newspapers, cable systems and TV and radio stations.
Fewer owners of this country's media will harm the 1st Amendment rights of citizens to a media system that provides meaningful diversity of expression and opinion. Indeed, if the Tribune Co. is permitted to own additional newspapers, TV stations or cable systems in a community, how will the public effectively learn about issues that may conflict with its political and financial agenda?
Exec. Dir., Center
for Digital Democracy