Great moments in media concentration law

This is just absurd: to comply with federal regulations barring owners of daily newspapers from also owning local broadcast stations, the owner of the venerable Dayton Daily News in Ohio may knock it down to three-times-a-week publication so that it won’t count as a daily anymore. Keith J. Kelly of the New York Post spotted the story, Cox Media Group outlined the plan in a press release a few weeks ago, and Joshua Benton at Nieman Lab has more:

To increase the quality of local journalism in Ohio, the Federal Communications Commission is requiring three newspapers to stop printing daily….

Did you get that? To strengthen the local news ecosystem in Dayton, the government is making its biggest newspaper publish less.

The rules date back to 1975 when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted regulations barring cross-ownership of local broadcast and newspaper properties while grandfathering in existing arrangements. It was never a good rule, but progressive social critics then as now traced countless social ills to media concentration and for-profit ownership of the press (what’s new these days is that populist conservatives crusade against the corporate media too).

Don’t blame today’s FCC. Two years ago the agency voted to scrap the decades-old newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rules, recognizing that the local news market had gone through convulsive changes in the meantime, with new media sources cutting deeply into ad revenues and the economics of newspaper publishing taking one deep hit after another. (Local broadcasting economics has suffered too, even if not as badly.) But opponents sued, and in September a Third Circuit panel struck down the deregulatory effort, a move that immediately called into question the terms of a pending deal transferring partial control of the large Cox Media Group, which got its start long ago with the venerable Dayton paper.

Others, such as Jonathan Rauch, have pointed out that antitrust laws may need easing anyway if newspapers are to organize successful ways to finance journalism in the online economy. And as we’ve warned before, there are special dangers in unleashing antitrust law on the media sector, where it can leave government with a corrupting influence over whether opposition papers are profitable and who gets to own them. But does anyone really think Dayton residents are better off if their local newspaper stops publishing every day?

[cross-posted from Cato at Liberty]

5 Comments

  • Six multinationals now control the vast majority of communications in the world: not only radio/TV and newspapers, but also phone companies, Internet providers, cable, satellite, movies, music, and even book publishing.

    Add in the current movement, led by Facebook and Google, to deplatform anyone who disagrees with far-left politics, and you get a serious threat to freedom of political speech anywhere in the world. So any relaxation of antitrust rules that allows those six giants to expand their control must be resisted.

    The newspaper in this case may or may not be an example. But if one of the Big 6 owns it, then by all means keep the restriction.

    • Your factually erroneous premises pave the way for your illiberal prescription.

  • What ever happened to “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, , ,” ?

    • It died shortly after “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

      That one died along with “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

    • It all started to die the moment the first US congress was sworn in.

      Every organization will eventually be taken over by people who serve the organization for it’s own sake rather than the organizations mission. Not even governments are immune to this.

      Once that happens to a government, it doesn’t matter what kind of constitution you have, or how you try to limit the power of the government. The people who serve the government for the government’s sake will see any constitution, any limits on their power not as a sacred obligation to be upheld, but as an obstacle to be overcome.

      Ultimately in the long run, the only way truly limited government can be preserved is to periodically burn it to the ground* and start over from scratch.

      Even that would require that a strong majority of the population supports the idea of limited government, and that such support is preserved from generation to generation.

      *This is meant metaphorically, not literally. I am not advocating violent revolution.

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