This weekend AT&T and Time Warner announced a merger deal and it didn't take long for critics on the left to begin making concerned statements about media consolidation. The Los Angeles Times already has a column up today claiming that it will be “a disaster for the public interest.”
My colleague Wayne Crews is not nearly no negative, however. Having written about technology and competition policy for many years, he’s seen waves of mergers (and spinoffs) come and go. In Forbes today, he takes on the pernicious idea that two media companies combining operations will somehow limit the ability to the American public to say informed:
…only government action, not the existence of big media outlets and potential new ones like AT&T-Time Warner, can obstruct citizen’s access to information — especially once the Internet was unleashed 20 years ago.
Indeed, centralized governmental restriction of media ownership–effectively limiting the size of microphones—is contrary to the very concept of democracy. An entity unleashing sweeping, cross-sectoral power to control of the size, structure and trajectories of private media outlets is itself the monopoly, if concentration of power is really the concern of those who’ve commented on AT&T-Time Warner.
Most recent mergers are about television and online/streaming entertainment. But core ideas and debate can never truly be bottled up by “big media” in a free society, where government does not practice censorship. However, individuals do have plenty to fear from a government that believes it acceptable for politicians and bureaucrats to block or control media voices. Larger microphones create and spawn rivalry, and are themselves an exercise or implementation of free speech itself, not its enemy. Big media also activates social media responses, making broadcasters and “big media” voices out of all of us.
Wayne’s article from 2003 for the American Bar Association magazine Communications Lawyer, “A Defense of Media Monopoly,” is also worth a read for background and context.