I found an editorial in today’s Seattle Times rather curious. [Kerry and the FCC, forcing the issue]
On Aug. 5, Kerry promised to appoint to the Federal Communications Commission people who would maintain the existing restrictions. “As president,” Kerry said, “I will pursue a policy that tries to have as diverse and broad an ownership as possible. It is critical to who we are as a free people. It’s critical to our democracy.” That is exactly right. Media ownership should not be analyzed in economic terms only, as if what mattered were advertising rates. At issue is the public dialogue. For the same reason we do not allow the government to manage that dialogue, we cannot allow one private owner to do so either, unless one owner is all the market will support. If it supports only one newspaper and one TV station, those should be owned by different people.
Of course, what The Seattle Times is really saying is, we cannot allow one private owner to manage the public dialogue… unless that owner is The Seattle Times.
There is no arguing with the editorial’s main premise that media diversity is critical to our democracy. Yet this self-evident thesis is clearly contradicted by The Times’ own single-minded effort to drive the competing Seattle P-I out of business, thus turning Seattle into a one newspaper town.
The Times apparently understands this hypocrisy and proffers the caveat that the principle of media diversity can be discarded if “one owner is all the market will support.”
Well, I suppose from an economic perspective, that’s a reasonable corollary. Newspapers are businesses after all.
But who exactly decides whether Seattle can continue to support two newspapers? The P-I obviously has concluded that it can (unless you believe the Hearst Corporation is willing to lose money as a public service.)
The Times however, says “no.”
And there’s the rub. For if The Times were indeed the only newspaper in town, theirs would be the only voice we would hear on this issue.
I can understand — even sympathize with — the Blethen’s desire to eliminate the competition. It can’t be easy scratching out a profit in this competitive market. But their own editorial board said it best: “Media ownership should not be analyzed in economic terms only, as if what mattered were advertising rates. At issue is the public dialogue.”
There is no question that it is in The Times’ best interest to dissolve the Joint Operating Agreement. But they need to come clean with readers and admit that it is not in the public interest.