In an interview yesterday, Acting FCC Chairman Copps said that the FCC should "reconsider restrictions on combined ownership of broadcast stations and newspapers as daily publications struggle with a plunge in revenue." This follows a letter from Speaker Pelosi to Attorney General Holder suggesting restrained antitrust review of transactions involving newspaper assets, and a proposal from Senator Cardin (D-MD) for a quasi-government bailout of newspaper firms.
They've all now suddenly discovered that the business model for daily newspapers is under strain and may not be sustainable? Was it the New York Times slouching toward bankruptcy that got their attention, or the failure of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer? And what about those claims, made little more than a year ago, by Commissioner Copps that the newspaper business was robust and newspaper profits were double the S&P average?
The sad truth is, the newspaper business has been heading toward a cliff for the last ten years; only willful ignorance can explain the failure of these people who have so recently come to be concerned about the fate of journalism to acknowledge the threat. Time will tell whether their new-found concern has come too late, or whether they have poisoned the political well too thoroughly for any effective policy change.
Indeed, had some of these same people, including Commissioner Copps, worked with then-Chairman Powell six years ago to forge consensus around changes to the structural ownership rules, both the newspaper business and the local broadcasting business (the next shoe to drop, one might well imagine) would be much better positioned to survive and thrive in the new, highly competitive, media marketplace. Instead, they railed about media consolidation and stoked irrational fears of mass mind control by "big media."
In civil society, one might expect an acknowledgment of past error, touched with a hint of shame, and even perhaps an apology for some of the less genteel things that were said of Chairman Powell during the 2003 ownership proceeding. This is Washington, though, where gentlemanly behavior is too much to hope for.