Friday, June 10, 2005 - The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

Media Myths Book is Finally Out!

Well, after mentioning it in just about every blog entry I've penned over the past few months, I'm happy to say that my new book, Media Myths: Making Sense of the Debate over Media Ownership, is finally out!

I open the book by posing the following questions:

* Are media companies in this country too big?
* How big is "too big"?
* Is the media diverse enough and competitive enough today?
* And what relationship, if any, does media size have to the health of our democracy?

I go on to show that, contrary to what some media critics claim, to the extent there was ever a "Golden Age" of media in America, we are living in it today. The media sky has never been brighter and it is getting brighter with each passing year. Citizens have more media options today than ever before. Indeed, far from living in a world of "media monopoly" we now live in a world of media multiplicity.

Regarding claims that extensive media regulation benefits consumers, I show that such rules do little to encourage increased media diversity and competition. Indeed, more often than not, they thwart important new developments that could enhance media diversity and competition. Citizens will be better off without such regulations because their private actions and preferences will have a greater bearing in shaping media markets than arbitrary federal regulations. No matter how large any given media outlet is today, it is ultimately just one of hundreds of sources of news, information, and entertainment that we have at our collective disposal. It is just one voice in our contemporary media cacophony, shouting to be heard above the others. Information and entertainment cannot be monopolized in a free society, especially in today's world of media abundance.

More specifically, in the book, I identify seven basic myths on which critics rest their case for widespread and ongoing government intervention in the media marketplace:

>> Myth #1: Diversity will suffer in an unregulated marketplace and many niche or minority audiences will not have access to the news, information or entertainment they desire or need.

>> Myth #2: "Localism" will be ignored in an unregulated marketplace since media providers will only deliver local fare if they are small "mom-and-pop" organizations. Larger media providers or chain owners cannot be expected to fulfill the needs of local communities.

>> Myth #3: Concentration of media ownership has become a crisis as only a few companies control the entire media universe. Absent government controls on the growth of media firms, only a few giant conglomerates would be left to control all media.

>> Myth #4: The future of our democracy is at stake since modern media fails to provide the necessary elements and conditions for public discussion of important issues.

>> Myth #5: Ownership rules are needed to preserve the quality of journalism and ensure informative, high-quality content and entertainment.

>> Myth #6: Free speech will be betrayed since the First Amendment was meant as a guarantee of press diversity and
"freedom of access" to media outlets.

>> Myth #7: New technologies, including the Internet, make little difference to the outcome of this debate or cannot be used as justification for relaxing existing media ownership rules.

I then dedicate a chapter to each myth and prove that these claims are wildly off-base and bear no relationship to empirical reality whatsoever. Here's what I find:

* Diversity: Chapter 1 shows that today's media environment is more diverse than ever before and is characterized by information abundance, not information scarcity. Citizens enjoy more news and entertainment options than at any other point in American history or human civilization. If there is a media diversity problem today it is that citizens suffer from "information overload" because of all the choices at their disposal. The number of information and entertainment options has become so overwhelming that many citizens struggle to filter and manage all the information they can choose from on any given day.

* Localism: While we do not really know exactly how much local fare citizens demand, citizens still receive a wealth of information about developments in their communities. Chapter 2 argues that although citizens are increasingly opting for more sources of national news and entertainment, local information and programming are still popular and will not disappear in a deregulated media marketplace. Indeed, "localism" is the one thing that distinguishes traditional radio and television broadcasting from newer forms of media and keeps it competitive. And new technologies are making it easier than ever before to access local information on demand.

* Concentration: Chapter 3 shows that the media marketplace is vigorously competitive and not significantly more concentrated than in past decades. But, I also show that competition and concentration are not mutually exclusive. Citizens can have more choices even as the ownership of media outlets grows slightly more concentrated as it has in some sectors in recent years. Importantly, much of the consolidation we have seen in recent years has been a response to rising competition from new outlets and technologies. As this competition has segmented the market and given consumers more options, many traditional media outlets have used consolidation as one method of offsetting increased audience fragmentation.

* Democracy: Civil discourse and a healthy democracy are the products of a free and open society unconstrained by government restrictions on media structures or content. "Democracy" does not equal untrammeled majoritarianism, and it does not mean that government can simply can ordain any ownership structures or business arrangements it wishes. But, as Chapter 4 illustrates, by all objective historical standards, deliberative democracy has never been more vigorous than it is today.

* Media quality: Media quality is, at root, a subjective matter. Government should have no say over--or even attempt to influence the quality of--news or entertainment in America. But with so many media outlets and options available today, citizens have a wide range of options from which to choose—meaning they can decide for themselves what level of "quality" they are looking for in news and entertainment. Importantly, increasing media diversity and competition has allowed for a flowering of more "biased" or opinioned news and commentary. Far from being a negative development, this is exactly the sort of vigorous exchange of ideas that should be hoped for in a democracy. Chapter 5 discusses media quality, and claims of media "bias," in detail.

* First Amendment: The First Amendment was not written as a constraint on private speech or actions, but rather as a direct restraint on government actions as they relate to speech. Chapter 6 argues that if the First Amendment is to retain its force and true purpose, structural ownership rules and "media access" mandates must not be allowed to stand.

* New technologies: New technologies and media trends do have an important bearing on this debate and call into question the wisdom of existing media ownership restrictions. In particular, the rise of the Internet and online media is radically changing the nature of this sector. Today's media marketplace looks very different than that of just 20 years ago and even more profound changes are likely on the way. Moreover, rapid technological convergence has made it increasingly difficult to distinguish one type of media outlet from another. Bits are bits, and they should not be artificially separated by archaic cross-ownership regulations. The impact of new media technologies and trends are discussed in great detail in Chapter 7.

I hope you take the time to check out my new book and tell me what you think. While you might not agree with everything I say, I do hope you find it to be an exhaustive survey of all the media policy issues out there today.

posted by Adam Thierer @ 1:51 PM | Mass Media