Do those who govern primarily look after the well being of the governed? Are their decisions made on behalf of society in general, or have they been made on behalf of "industry?"
It was about 25 years ago that I had an informal meeting in Washington with a couple of FCC commissioners and several of their senior staff members concerning a Television issue.
One of the Commissioners repeatedly referred to "our industry spokesman" and when I inquired as to whom that might be the reply was "why Jack Valenti of course." I pointed out that Jack brilliantly represented the MPAA and not all of the television industry, and all in attendance were somehow surprised.
I told them that it was a little known secret that in fact Lew Wasserman was a ventriloquist and that when Jack came before the commission and moved his lips, that the words spoken were those of Wasserman the MCA Chairman.
The names and the issues have changed in the intervening years, and now the FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is determined to remove certain cross ownership restrictions.
25 years later, News Corp, Viacom/CBS, General Electric and Disney are today's ventriloquists, and FCC Chairman Martin moves his lips, but the voices spoken in this matter are the voices of these media giants.
Had I the opportunity, I would ask Chairman Martin why removing or modifying the cross ownership rules is good for America? How can these new rules realistically help America be better informed? The quintessential question is "why now?"
Would it be good for Americans to have the General Electric Company own the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times? I think not.
Certainly much has changed since the implementation of the cross ownership rules, yet these rules continue to serve our country well.
Chairman Martin appeared Thursday before the Senate Commerce Committee; Martin defended his plan, notwithstanding heated inquiries from Senators from both parties urging a delay.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., suggested the FCC and some media industry execs have set up the Internet as a "boogey monster" to justify changes, when in fact Internet digital competition is no match for the real competition that will be lost between a newspaper and a TV station if the rule change is approved.
"Good for you Senator Cantwell."
Perhaps Chairman Martin a further explanation would be helpful. I have no research to support my opinions, yet I believe that my 50 years of media experience counts for something, if only a little.
When the cross ownership rules were put in place there were a limited number of content delivery systems available to the public. Presently there are many delivery systems, and in the near term there will be an unlimited number. While I am not thrilled with the concentration of power in the delivery of most mass market entertainment materiel, society requires more diverse delivery of news and opinions that can only come from independently owned newspapers that provide news and opinions that do not originate at "corporate headquarters."
Chairman Martin, the broadcast networks delivery of "magazine shows" that they "retail" as a half hour of news every day, or hours of "man bites dog local news weather and sports" is not what matters. That "content" delivery is not relevant to the issue at hand.
Because we have cable networks that hide under the nomenclature of news such as CNN, FNC, MSNBC, this content delivery is not relevant as well. We could have a gazillion additional local or national Radio or Television stations, and it would not change the situation a teeny weeny bit.
Senator Cantwell is correct when she indicates that for this discussion the very relevant internet is irrelevant.
Chairman Martin: it is better in an open and free society if it has an INDEPENDENT delivery of real news and commentary from as many diverse sources as possible. Sir, Newspapers represent other INDEPENDENT sources of news and opinion.
I would like to continue to know that when I read the New York Times that its news gathering apparatus and editorial staff are not controlled by the Walt Disney Company. Sir, you appear too statistically analyze the issue and equate numbers of outlets when you should equate diversity of control and what is truly in the best interests of our democracy.
I expect that the giants in the media business are interested in their control of that business and its profitability and not in the best interests of our society or country.
A sad American