When it comes to media, bigger is not better. And when it comes to the control of the infrastructure of how we communicate now, the trend toward extreme bigness — as illustrated by Comcast’s plan to buy Time Warner Cable and create an unprecedented cable combine — is accelerating at a dangerous pace.

In the aftermath of a federal court decision striking down the “net neutrality” protections that were developed to maintain an open and freewheeling discourse on the Internet, and with journalism threatened at every turn by cuts and closures, the idea of merging Comcast and Time Warner poses a threat that ought to be met with official scrutiny and grass-roots opposition.

The point of the free-press protection that is outlined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is not to free billionaire media moguls and speculators to make more money. The point is to have a variety of voices, multiple entry points for multiple points of view, and a communications infrastructure that fosters debate, dissent and democratic discourse.

When media conglomerates merge, they do not provide better service or better democracy. They create the sort of monopolies that constrain America’s promise. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was right when he decried “concentration of economic power in the few” and warned that “business monopoly in America paralyzes the system of free enterprise on which it is grafted, and is as fatal to those who manipulate it as to the people who suffer beneath its impositions.”

Merging the two largest cable providers is a big deal in and of itself — allowing one company to become a definitional player in major media markets across the country — but this goes far beyond cable. By expanding its dominance of video and Internet communications into what the Los Angeles Times describes as a “juggernaut” with 30 million subscribers, the company that already controls NBCUniversal could drive hard bargains with content providers. It could also define the scope and character of news and public-service programming in dozens of states and hundreds of major cities — including Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York City and Washington, D.C.

That’s too much power for any one communications conglomerate to have, especially a corporation that has been on a buying spree. Comcast already controls a broadcast and cable empire that includes NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, the USA Network, Telemundo and other networks.

It’s bad for consumers.

“In an already uncompetitive market with high prices that keep going up and up, a merger of the two biggest cable companies should be unthinkable. The deal would be a disaster for consumers and must be stopped,” says Craig Aaron, the president of the media-reform group Free Press.

It’s bad for musicians, documentarians and other creators.

“Comcast’s proposed takeover of Time Warner would give one company incredible influence over how music and other media is accessed and under what conditions,” says the Future of Music Coalition’s Casey Rae, who noted “the ever present danger of a huge corporation like Comcast — which already owns a major content company — disadvantaging competition or locking creators into unfair economic structures.”

And it is bad for the democratic discourse of a nation that was founded on the premise — as stated by Thomas Jefferson — that: "No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found is the freedom of the press.”

The idea that “all the avenues to truth” would be controlled by a monopoly, a duopoly or any small circle of multinational communications conglomerates is antithetical to the understanding of the authors of a free press, and of its true defenders across the centuries.

So, yes, U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., is right : “There’s not enough competition in this space; we need more competition. This is going in the wrong direction.”

Franken has urged the U.S. Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission “to act quickly and decisively to ensure that consumers are not exposed to increased cable prices and decreased quality of service as a result of this transaction."

The FCC, in particular, has broad authority to weigh telecommunications industry mergers, with an eye toward determining whether they are in the public interest. And the antitrust lawyers at the Department of Justice also have considerable authority to act.

But challenges to this proposed merger must also come from the congressional watchdogs over consolidation and monopoly issues. “Stopping this kind of deal is exactly why we have antitrust laws,” says Free Press’ Aaron.

The congressional role cannot be underestimated. The Department of Justice and the FCC get cues from Congress. And the voices of savvy legislators such as Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin will play a critical role in determining whether this merger goes forward.

Some of the initial signals have been good.

“This proposed merger could have a significant impact on the cable industry and affect consumers across the country,” said Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar, the chair of the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, who announced: “I plan to hold a hearing to carefully scrutinize the details of this merger and its potential consequences for both consumers and competition.”

The ranking Republican on the committee, Utah Sen. Mike Lee, supports the review, as did public interest groups ranging from Public Knowledge to Consumers Union.

But hearings will not be enough. The Senate, in particular, must send clear signals.

Former FCC Commissioner Mike Copps is precisely right when he observes that the idea of creating an even larger telecommunications conglomerate “is so over the top that it ought to be dead on arrival at the FCC.”

Copps, who now serves as a special adviser to Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Reform Initiative, is equally right when he says: “The proposed deal runs roughshod over competition and consumer choice and is an affront to the public interest.”

But the public interest will only prevail if the public, and its elected representatives, raise an outcry in defense of the robust competition that opens “all the avenues to truth.”

John Nichols, associate editor of the Capital Times, is a co-founder of Free Press and the co-author (with Robert W. McChesney) of the award-winning study of media policy and democracy, "The Death and Life of American Journalism" (Nation Books). jnichols@madison.com and @NicholsUprising

Associate Editor of the Cap Times

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(17) comments

gdp
gdp

If only Nichols had the same attitude towards government monopoly. But, that has always been the irony flowing from the 'liberal' position respecting anti-trust: blind inconsistency or clear hypocrisy, or both. Oh yes, when they are employed by the government, they're transformed into angels?! But then, only in our time, has graft become a matter of public policy, where convicted political felons can persuasively argue graft as norm in order to overcome the conviction. And the whole genre of satiating special interest in repudiating general legislation proves it. Who denies that redistribution is a form of political graft?

Mister_i
Mister_i

If you were truly a responsible or reasonable person, every time you complain about Koch or Alec, you should also mention Soros or Media Matters. Same thing, different views. Same goals.

spooky tooth
spooky tooth

Same goals, yeah right.

Media Matters, isn't that the group that points out the lies coming from the propaganda channels, Fox and Hate Radio? Heck, just tune into John Stewart he does it every night on Comedy Central. Remember, people that don't even actively seek out the news are more informed than Fox viewers. I'll leave it up to you to figure out why?

John_Galt
John_Galt

So only the right has lies? Who knew!

mockingbird
mockingbird

no they excuse the lies by the left because they believe the ends justify the means and that their side is just in using any tactic necessary

"youtube video"
"keep your healthcare plan"
"not a smidgen of corruption"
"did not have sexual relations"
etc etc.

Not honest open discussion about money in politics and in relation to 'democracy' can only look at ONE side of the spending.

But the same people who slam the koch brothers will read and have their world view shaped by soros group talking points without any complaint.

Just like FreePress can moan about big money while taking it from a billionaire hedgefunder with a checkered past and goals of an "open society" without the inherent rights we enjoy in our country today


mockingbird
mockingbird

this is especially relavant because the nichols group free press has gotten over 1 million dollars from soros!

here is an interesting article about this freepress group and what they have been trying to do....

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052748703886904576031512110086694?mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424052748703886904576031512110086694.html

NotleftorrightR
NotleftorrightR

Yes we must stop media outlets from pushing a political or social agenda without providing views of others. It is dangerous for democracy for any media outlet to support only one side, .....oh wait I am on the cap times....strike that....unless an media outlet is pushing the "correct" message as given to them by the political officers it is too dangerous for media outlets to become to large and have too many people watching their channel.

Maybe a new TVs could have a computer chip that only allows a viewer to watch MSNBC if they have logged equal hours of viewing FOX.

John_Galt
John_Galt

A novel idea, I like it!

spooky tooth
spooky tooth

The only winners with #1 and #2 merging are the stock holders. Consumers will pay more and get only what this giant company wants to give us.

We already pay more for package deals combining phone, internet and TV compared to Europe and Japan. The internet is 10 to 20 times faster in Europe and the average cost is $38/mo, we pay on average $160/mo. We pay 38 times as much as the Japanese. Our internet speed is so slow your netflix movie stalls out.

In the beginning we had the fastest internet speed, but the rest of the world passed us by because Washington changed the rules to favor business over consumers. The same thing with our International Trade Deals, Washington is making business the winners and citizens the losers.

Watch out if the Koch brothers complete their deal and buy our state and federal government. We ain't seen nothing yet.

Lynne4300
Lynne4300

Your "Koch" obsession is showing.

spooky tooth
spooky tooth

and you're very naive/misinformed if you don't know they run the republican party. give us some examples playing out that didn't come from ALEC or one of their think tanks?

John_Galt
John_Galt

Did you read about George Soros today? he's betting huge that our stock market is going to crash. He plans to make billions off of that bet.

spooky tooth
spooky tooth

John,

The question should be why will the market crash? What are the banksters up to? If the market crashes, will be the fault of the concentration of wealth? Since all the gains of the past 30 years have gone to the top 1% and we're losing our middle class, is the market built on a house of cards?

Soros makes a ton of money and he wants a strong middle class and an end to poverty. So do people like Buffet and Gates. Bill Maher gave Obama a million and never even got a lunch invite. These people are not looking to buy representation and courts that will change laws where they win and everyone else loses.

You tell me, what are the Koch brothers after since they bought the republican party?

196ski
196ski

John_Galt (below)
I saw that about Soros yesterday.
I am afraid the writing is on the wall for the economy. Shadow banking in China is teetering on default, Europe is doing nothing and if we took away Quantitative Easing we would head straight back to recession. The bright spot for the US is energy but we seem to be bent on shooting our selves in the foot with all of the climate change crap. This recovery has been a head fake and Soros knows it.

John_Galt
John_Galt

Spooky, Obama gave the 1%er's huge gains during his reign, the Kochs have nothing to do with that. Obama is using QE to enrich his buddies even more before they bail on the market and let the rest of us take the hit.
The rich get richer, the poor suck up to the free handouts and us in the middle get the shaft.
Ski, I agree with you, but the climate change is another rip off that makes Gore rich at the expense of the rest of us. It's certainly not "settled" science. Not when the models fail with such regularity.
Hang on, we are going for a rocky rise soon enough.

1blueheron
1blueheron

Good article! Monopolization of the media plays into the democracy proofing of America and the protection of the energy, food, and drug monopolies that heavily impact the lives of citizens. Controlling the perception, marketing, eliminating competition and everything that used to be known as "the American way," is being formulated in this deal, that controls information itself. One can only wonder how much longer we can even have a voice in a space such as this, before we are silenced. This time of unregulated globalization has created corporate entities that now play all sides against the middle, with an accumulation of wealth and influence like never before in human history. This is no longer an era of "friendly competitor," this is era of take over and control and power bonding. If we do not challenge the monopolies, if we do not check their power, if we allow their newspeak Orwellian networks to live inside our heads, we indeed are no longer a free nation.

PapaLorax
PapaLorax

there has never been a point in history where our ability to get information is greater then right now. The fact that some choose a limited and slanted outlet...and call it decided...that can't be stopped.

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