What happens when the media are owned or controlled by a diminishing number of large corporations? The Federal Communications Commission requested comments on that question as part of its quadrennial review of its media consolidation rules. You can read our submitted comments here.
The members of the Writers Guild of America, East see first-hand what happens when too few entities control too much of what the American public watches and listens to, both in the entertainment realm and in news. Democracy depends on the vibrant exchange of ideas; on information presented in coherent, meaningful ways; on independent thought which is not tailored for commercial advantage. Consolidation of ownership and power in the media removes these vital elements from the marketplace. Instead of a town square where ideas flow freely, the news business becomes more like a shopping mall dominated by a small number of megastores. This thwarts the public's interest in robust, well-informed discussion of the critical issues of our times.
At some point there will be a new business model for high-quality journalism but we all recognize that the news business is under financial pressure. We think the federal government should increase funding for public affairs programming until the economics sort themselves out.
Media consolidation also hurts the entertainment business. The identity and progress of a society is related to the quality, number, and diversity of stories the society tells itself. We build our identities in part through the dramas and comedies we watch. Niche audiences are important -- particular communities with their own experiences and interests. If media are owned by smaller and smaller numbers of larger and larger conglomerates, the tendency is to sell to the mean -- that is, to create programming that aggregates the largest audiences.
Increasingly, the same company that provides consumer access to the Internet also provides access to television; that is, the ISP is also the cable company. As the proposed joint venture between Comcast and NBC Universal demonstrates, this convergence will place control of three central elements of the media market into the hands of a small number of corporate entities: distribution of television programming by cable; access to the Internet; and content production. We have asked the FCC to consider this development as it updates its media consolidation rules.
The Writers Guild of America, East is a labor union representing writers in motion pictures, broadcast, cable, news and digital media. We are members of the Coalition for Competition in Media.