Media Regulation and Howard Dean's guest blogging

This week I've been checking out Lawrence Lessig's (You may remember him from the Eldred vs Ashcroft case, he's a proponent of IP law change) blog, because this week Presidential hopeful Howard Dean is guest blogging.

http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/lessig/blog/

His comments have me thinking.

James Madison and Thomas Jefferson spoke of the fear that economic power would one day try to seize political power. No consolidated economic power has more opportunity to do this than the consolidated power of media.
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People asked what can be done about media deregulation. I think we need to re-regulate the media that has clearly abused its authority by censoring information that should be made available to the American people.

Now I am against media regulation, or at least I was. However, his words got me thinking, before I was mainly thinking about things such as Clear Channel and TV stations, entertainment media. However Journalistic media didn't factor for me, I just didn't think about it. It seems to me that being classified as a Journalist means you should have some accountability. However, I don't think this requires regulation. Or, I don't think regulation helps this.

That part about economic power siezing political power intrigues me, because it's exactly what's been happening for a couple of decades, mainly through manipulation of the media, like Howard Dean says above.

I'm not really sure I know what I think would solve this. I am for deregulation, but we need diversity badly, and unless we deregulate everything including broadcast frequencies, I don't think it's going to happen. What do you guys think, is there a compromise in here somewhere, or is it a BBC or Internet situation. Government owned or completely unregulated?

I thought the one thing liberals and conservatives could agree on was that the media was biased...against them.

From Howard Dean:

The danger of relaxing media ownership rules became clear to me when I saw what happened with the Dixie Chicks.

I love how the Dixie Chicks speaking out against the President is free speech, but a private enterprise reacting to the users of their service is censorship. The fact that country music stations stopped playing the Dixie Chicks was not because of a vast conspiracy by media conglomorates. It was because they are a business, and they saw that their users, i.e. the listeners, were threatening to go elsewhere because they were outraged. So they made a business decision, which is their right to do, to stop playing the Dixie Chicks until the furor had subsided. That is not censorship. You could still go buy a Dixie Chicks CD. You could turn to a pop station owned by the same media conglomorates, because they were still playing the Dixie Chicks on pop stations (not as much consumer protest).

I love when people think we need bigger government. Especially to protect people from being held accountable or feeling reprecussions from their own actions.

The media conglomerates now dominate almost half of the markets around the country, meaning Americans get less independent and frequently less dependable news, views and information

People get the same crappy quality of news, views, etc., not because of the media conglomorates, but because of the audience. Television news focuses much more on the single antecdote than any real analysis, and the politicians love this because it empowers their desires for sweeping social change. A perfect example is the current prescription drug care bill that the Democrats are pushing. The television news finds the lady that has to eat cat food so she can buy drugs, and paints the picture of a crisis. The politicians love this, because it give them momentum when they try to foist a bill that will cost a minimum of $400 billion, maybe as much as a trillion dollars (and Democrats have said that it is ''a good start''). The reality is that people over the age of 50 have a higher accumulation of wealth than any other demographic. The vast majority of seniors have no need for this plan, and yet that doesn''t stop the creation of ''policy by antecdote''.

The media conglomorates don''t decide their content. The audience does. The audience votes on what content that they want with their attention and thus their dollars. The media is a business that gives the audience what they want. If all the majority of the audience wants is to know who Brittney Spears is dating, well the media will be happy to oblige.

As far as the news being less dependable, what is he referring to? Jayson Blair? How is limiting how many radio stations a company can own going to fix that? No, the way to solve that is not by government regulation, but by letting the free market work. If someone proves to be untrustworthy, the audience will respond by not paying attention to them. The free market is ruthlessly efficient when it comes to weeding out the weaker parts of a system.

From Pyroman:

I am for deregulation, but we need diversity badly, and unless we deregulate everything including broadcast frequencies, I don''t think it''s going to happen.

I''m not sure what you mean by needing diversity? Do you really think that there is less diversity in the media now, than at any other time? I can watch a multitude of all news channels, all entertainment channels, public television, network television, music television, etc. There are programs dedicated to both political bents, to discussion of topics, to rumors and innuendo, to the bathing habits of ancient Egyptians, etc. How is that not diverse?

There is an even greater diversity of radio and print media. Talk radio provides news and analysis. There is a magazine for practically everything.

I''m not really sure I know what I think would solve this.

I guess I am not sure what needs solving. No one can actually point to a problem, other than the general apathy of the audience, and I don''t think that there is anything the media can do about that, regulated or not. Plus, what makes anyone think that there is any solution at all? Everything is a matter of trade-offs, and you can''t solve one thing without breaking something else. The ego neccesary to think that one person, or group of people, has the capacity to solve an issue better than the systematic processes and collective knowledge of millions of people is staggering.

What Jonny said.

Damn, your icon had me thinking you were Ulairi!

I''m not sure what you mean by needing diversity? Do you really think that there is less diversity in the media now, than at any other time? I can watch a multitude of all news channels, all entertainment channels, public television, network television, music television, etc. There are programs dedicated to both political bents, to discussion of topics, to rumors and innuendo, to the bathing habits of ancient Egyptians, etc. How is that not diverse?

They all are owned by the company and say the same exact thing. War coverage by the media, for example. Sure we have more news coverage from different channels than at any other time. Yes, during a war the media will be supportive, but what the news companies did in America during the war was basically cheerleading. You didn''t see this in the BBC News, or the much less regulated Internet. That''s what I call lack of diversity, there are dissenting voices out there that aren''t heard because the media conglomerates think they know what you want to hear. The pushing back of violent movies after 9/11 is another thing, after the inital shock wore off, alot of people wanted escapism, and were denied because the movie companies didn''t think they wanted it. You point out examples where the media conglomerates accurately guessed what thier users want, not proof that the market currently goes where the users want. The kind of diversity I''m talking about isn''t numeric, but qualitative. Sure there is more TV now than ever before, and almost all of it is a clone of each other, which was true less before than it is now.

I''m not talking about political shows, because frankly I never watch any of them. My experience is with entertainment media and to a lesser extent journalism, so anything I say has nothing to do with political opinion shows, just to clear things up. From what little I understand of it, things like PBS and NPR fill that nicely. Besides, if you''re a media conglomorate and you want to sieze political power, you don''t do it the obvious way by only presenting one canidate, yours, over and over again. You present several viewpoints and messages that say the exact same thing, which is the current situation. Not that I''m attributing all of this to concious malice on the part of the media conglomorates.

I just want to point out I agree with you on the Dixie Chicks thing, I don''t really know why he used that as an example. I agree with the overall point, however, that the media conglomorates control too much of what we see and hear. I also agree that alot of it is our own damn fault. I wasn''t for regulation in my initial post, simply reconsidering my position against it. To foster discussion, which it seems to be doing.

I guess I am not sure what needs solving. No one can actually point to a problem, other than the general apathy of the audience, and I don''t think that there is anything the media can do about that, regulated or not. Plus, what makes anyone think that there is any solution at all? Everything is a matter of trade-offs, and you can''t solve one thing without breaking something else. The ego neccesary to think that one person, or group of people, has the capacity to solve an issue better than the systematic processes and collective knowledge of millions of people is staggering.

The rest of your post was sensible, this is akin to saying we shouldn''t try to solve a physics problem because of the laws of thermodynamics. ""Solve"" doesn''t mean to destroy energy, or to alter people, but to alter the situation to promote change and a more diverse range of media. By reconfiguring rules and regulations, not trying to alter public opinion in any forcible way. Yes, there will be side effects, it doesn''t mean it won''t be beneficial to do it anyway. It''s not any more arrogant than taking penicilin to get rid of an infection.