- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2003

The forces against deregulation of media ownership made their last stand on Tuesday. At a press conference at the Federal Communications Commission’s Washington headquarters, the two Democratic members of the commission and other protesters complained that deregulating the industry would lead to what they call the McDonaldization of media — by which they mean that big conglomerates will gobble up all the competition. Last week, the left-wing Code Pink group tried to award their trademark pink slip — as in lingerie — to FCC Chairman Michael Powell in protest of his supposedly dangerous right-wing agenda to destroy free speech, oddly enough through less government control of speech. The reason for the PR circus is that in four days the FCC is scheduled to vote to loosen market-share restrictions on broadcasters.

Opposition to deregulation has united a bizarre coalition of interest groups. In addition to the usual self-appointed consumers’ representatives, conservative activists such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Media Research Center’s L. Brent Bozell are fighting alongside the leftists. The NRA basically has used the issue for fund-raising purposes, saying less regulation of TV gives more power to the anti-gun liberal media. Mr. Bozell is lobbying for the government to dictate morality on television through a mandated “family hour.” It is surprising that these two groups, both experienced in fighting bureaucratic nitwittery, somehow believe that more government control will benefit their interests this time. We’re against a federal dictate for family programming for the same reason we’re against it for school curricula: Once this power is ceded to the government, values are defined by bureaucrats. A family hour on TV would not necessarily mean a traditional family hour. The government-sponsored shows easily could be offensive to the values of most Americans.

The opponents of deregulation are overreacting. The likely change in the rules that will occur next week does not open the door to unrestricted consolidation, and Mr. Powell is not pushing for such a dramatic shift in policy. The current broadcast-ownership laws restrict networks from owning more than a 35 percent share of television households. While they haven’t publicly clarified their agenda yet, Mr. Powell, the other two Republican commissioners and the Bush administration only support raising this ceiling to 45 percent. That’s not radical. Even Democrat FCC member Jonathan Adelstein grudgingly admitted that he could support an increase to 40 percent.

For practical purposes, 41 percent is the current limit anyway, as Viacom is operating at that level with court permission. And Federal courts consistently have ruled against caps. In short, the coming apocalypse the Democrats are decrying is over a mere 4 percent to 5 percent change in the market. What the liberals really are trying to stop is the growth of Fox, which currently has a viewer share of approximately 38 percent. Two years ago, the FCC granted Fox a waiver to exceed the 35 percent cap, but this allowance expires on July 25 — at which time the company must divest of its surplus holdings. Next week’s vote would allow Fox to “gobble up” 10 percent more of the market, and keep it. In the name of diversity and protecting smaller broadcasters, opponents of deregulation actually are trying to undermine the only competitor to the big three networks.

The anti-deregulators make no bones about wanting more government intervention in the media. As Barry Diller, a director of The Washington Post Co., was quoted as saying in The Post yesterday: “We need more regulation, not less.” That statement is all anyone needs to know about this fight, which is between those who want bigger government and those who want less. We think there should be less. It is a shame the NRA and Brent Bozell are sleeping with the enemy on this one.

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