Just when you think the debate over media ownership regulation in this country can't get any more absurd, along comes this letter from FCC Commissioner Michael Copps arguing that Rupert Murdoch's deal for the Wall Street Journal should be blocked to somehow save the nation (especially those poor New Yorkers) from an evil media monopoly. "It will create a single company with enormous influence over politics, art and culture across the nation and especially in the New York metropolitan area."
PUH-LEASE! How can someone make such an argument with a straight face? Rupert Murdoch is going to control "the politics, art and culture" of the nation with the WSJ?? Come on, get serious. The Journal isn't exactly the standard-bearer when it comes to setting artistic or cultural trends for the nation. And the argument that Murdoch is somehow going to control "the politics, art and culture" of the New York area with the Journal is even more absurd. Is there really any shortage of inputs in the New York area when it comes to those things? Are the artsy-fartsy liberals of NYC suddenly going to wake up one day, start reading the Journal, and completely change their lifestyles? Please.
Anyway, I wrote a much longer essay for the City Journal back in August predicting all this "Chicken Little" nonsense would be coming. As I said then:
The argument that the Murdochâ€“Dow Jones marriage will have a significant impact on American journalism or democracy is absurd. Donâ€™t get me wrong. The Journal is a great paper; in my opinion, it represents the pinnacle of journalistic excellence. Nonetheless, itâ€™s just one of many voices shouting to be heard in todayâ€™s media cacophony. Indeed, the modern media marketplace is extraordinarily dynamic, with new outlets and technologies developing constantly. Despite the existence of a handful of very large conglomerates, dozens of other important media companies continue to thrive and fill important niches that the big firms have missed. As Columbia Universityâ€™s Eli Noam has noted of the modern media marketplace, â€œWhile the fish in the pond have grown in size, the pond did grow, too, and there have been new fish and new ponds.â€
Or oceans, perhaps. As my recent City Journal article, â€œThe Media Cornucopia,â€ points out, close to 14,000 radio stations are broadcasting today, a number that has nearly doubled since 1970; satellite radio, which didnâ€™t exist before 2001, has roughly 13 million subscribers nationwide. Eighty-six percent of households subscribe to cable or satellite TV, receiving an average of 102 channels of the more than 500 that are available. Americans could read any of 18,267 magazines in 2005 (up from 14,302 in 1993). According to the Internet Systems Consortium, the number of Internet host computersâ€”computers or servers that allow people to post content on the Webâ€”grew from just 235 in 1982 to roughly 400 million in 2006. At the beginning of 2007, the blog-tracking service Technorati counted over 63 million blogs, with more than 175,000 new ones created every day. In light of these realities, itâ€™s difficult to see how Rupert Murdochâ€™s move to buy the Journal makes much of a difference in the larger scheme of things.
And the state of media competition and diversity is even better in the New York metro area. So it's impossible to conclude that the News Corp-WSJ deal will have any serious impact on "the politics, art or culture" of either the nation or the NYC area as Copps suggests. Commissioner Copps needs to wake up and smell modern media marketplace reality.