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2004-07-30 14:10:33
What is Media Diversification and Democracy?

There is no doubt that information is vital to a healthy democracy. Only when people are fairly informed of the politics, society, and culture that affect their everyday lives, they can properly and actively participate in the decision-making processes that define democracy. All of us get our information from the media, and it plays an enormous role in influencing and shaping opinions. Just as a monopoly in the commercial market threatens fair competitions, fair pricings, and so on, thus adversely affecting consumers, consolidated media has the potential of skewing and even shutting down the ‘marketplace of ideas’ to the detriment of the citizens. With the ongoing media consolidation that has allowed crossover ownerships and monopolistic dominations of markets, there is less and less guarantee that we have access to diverse viewpoints from diverse media.

The 1945 Supreme Court ruling on the case of Associated Press v. United States (326 U.S. 1, 20) states that the First Amendment "rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public." In March 1998, the former FCC commissioner Susan Ness invoked the Supreme Court counsel at a review of the commission’s media ownership rules and echoed the sentiment: she stated, "[diversity of ownership of America’s media] is an ‘insurance policy for democracy.’ The free market of ideas and information is essential to self-governance."

Indeed, the concern about media ownership deregulation and its damaging effect on democracy is widespread and, in the political arena, gaining bipartisan supports. William Safire, the conservative columnist for the New York Times wrote: "the truth is that media mergers have narrowed the range of information and entertainment available to people of all ideologies." Many members of Congress and Senate have joined in the effort to halt or reverse media consolidation, and John McCain, the Republican Senator and the new chair of the Senate Commerce Committee that oversees the FCC, has been especially vocal about his concerns on the issue. In June 2002, the Democratic Senator Russ Feingold introduced (and reintroduced in January 2003) "Competition in Radio and Concert Industries Act," intended to help "small and independent radio station owners and promoters and consumers by prohibiting anti-competitive practices in the radio and concert industries." In June 2004, McCain and the Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy introduced the McCain-Leahy Bill to allow licensing and construction of Low Power FM community radio stations.

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