Don't let Comcast and NBC merge into media conglomerate

Capital Times:

Comcast's proposed merger with NBC would produce a media behemoth that would control a significant portion of available channels and content.

The owners of Comcast and NBC Universal, two of the most powerful communications conglomerates in the United States, want to merge their corporations in a broadcast and cable behemoth that would dominate the discourse in the United States.

If they get their wish which executives of the corporations expressed to key House and Senate subcommittees on Thursday an already narrow and frequently dysfunctional debate in America would become narrower and more dysfunctional.

"This merger would further limit the American people's access to a wide array of information and broadcast content that is inherently necessary for a properly functioning democracy," said Congressman Maurice Hinchey, the New York Democrat who is the founder and chairman of the Future of American Media Caucus. "The Comcast-NBC Universal deal must be blocked for the good of the American people."

Hinchey has rallied a number of House members to object to the merger in letters calling on Attorney General Eric Holder and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski to reject Comcast Corp.'s plan to acquire NBC Universal.

Here's the letter:

"We are writing to express our opposition to Comcast Corp.'s acquisition of NBC Universal. If this deal is approved, it would further consolidate a U.S. media industry that is already controlled by a handful of corporate conglomerates. Localism, diversity, and competition in today's media, all of which are severely weak, would be nearly lost. At a time when it is critically important for the public to be able to access independent sources of information, we believe this acquisition should not go forward and urge you to reject it.

"Over the last 20 years, the U.S. media industry has experienced massive consolidation. Today, five companies own the broadcast networks, 90 percent of the top 50 cable networks, produce three-quarters of all prime time programming, and control 70 percent of the prime time television market share. These same companies own the nation's most popular newspapers and networks also own over 85 percent of the top 20 Internet news sites. There has also been a severe decline in the number of minority-owned broadcast stations. In 2007, minorities owned just 3.2 percent of the U.S. television stations and 7 percent of the nation's full power radio stations, despite making up more than 34 percent of the population.

"If Comcast's acquisition of NBC Universal is allowed to proceed, the company would control content production and content distribution at an unprecedented level. A Comcast-NBC conglomerate would own the nation's largest cable system, one of the nation's largest networks, 27 broadcast television stations, 14 national cable channels, seven production studios, and several of the fast growing Internet properties.

"This widened control over the public's access to information would have extremely negative consequences and raises important antitrust issues. Comcast would be in a powerful position to advance its networks and its programming at the expense of others because it will control the cable system most people use to watch television, as well as numerous additional television broadcast stations. And it would further limit the public's access to independent sources of information, which is absolutely essential to a well-functioning democracy.

"The Supreme Court, on numerous occasions, has upheld the right of the government to establish media protections, acknowledging that a monopolization of ideas is antithetical to our democracy. In 1945, the court declared that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public, that a free press is a condition of a free society.' In 1969, the Supreme Court stated, It is the purpose of the First Amendment to preserve an uninhibited marketplace of ideas in which truth will ultimately prevail, rather than to countenance monopolization of that market, whether it be by the government itself or a private licensee.'

"The debate over the direction of media in America is one of the most, if not the most, critical issues we face today. There is no issue more central to the future of a properly functioning democracy than how Americans receive information. We hope you will reject this acquisition and, instead, take steps to reduce the consolidation of the U.S. media industry."

Along with Hinchey, House members Donna Edwards of Maryland, John Olver of Massachusetts, Carolyn McCarthy of New York, and Bob Filner, Pete Stark and Lynn Woolsey of California have signed the letter.

These representatives are not merely objecting to a media merger. They are standing up for the sort of diverse, dissenting and democratic media that a great nation requires.

And they need allies.

This is a letter that should be signed by every member of the House and Senate who takes seriously James Madison's wise counsel.

"A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both," wrote the principle drafter of the Constitution. "Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."

The popular information that sustains democracy cannot come from media monopoly. It must come from a diverse and dissenting media that speaks truth to power. Concentrated and consolidated media does not speak truth to power; it is power precisely the sort of power that should be regulated by antitrust agencies.

article originally published at Capital Times.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey