commentary by Steve Effros Concentrate Think very hard. Focus. Try to remember. It was one year ago last February. I wrote a column called "Fact Finding," about the issue of consolidation and concentration of control. There were congressional hearings at which some of our "leaders" implied that the "decline" in the values and quality (read Janet Jackson) of the media, particularly television, were attributable to increasing concentration of control. Members of Congress and the FCC boldly suggested, as usual, that "big" equated to "bad." I took issue. I suggested maybe, just maybe, this debate could be tempered with facts. I know, I know… how silly of me to be insisting, after all these years, that political debates in Washington should have anything to do with facts! But I keep trying. As a side note, there is a certain irony to all the yelling and screaming about the "activist, liberal" judiciary. Those judges seem to be the only ones who are still insisting on that conservative notion of proof and facts before they allow various laws and regulations to take effect! That’s why the FCC has had so much trouble with its ownership restrictions. The courts have insisted that there be some provable support for all these claims of imminent harm before they allow the government to run everyone’s business. That, to me, does not sound "liberal" or "conservative," just sensible. The "proof" turns out to be very hard to find. As a reminder, here are the questions I posed last year: Do we have more media outlets today or fewer? Are there more or fewer sources of news? More broadcast networks or fewer? Fewer channels of programming or more? More independent films or fewer? How about magazines? More or fewer? Books? More published or fewer? Well, you know the answers to all those questions. More, in all cases. And yet, this week the FCC is starting another inquiry into ownership restrictions for the cable industry, and commissioners are giving speeches, again, decrying concentration of control of the media and suggesting that "small and local" is the answer. Have these folks ever lived in a town with a dominant local newspaper owner? Do you really think people get more "balanced" news from the "locals"? A well-known media researcher and professor, Ben Compaine, author of "Who Owns the Media," has come out with a new report callled "The Media Monopoly Myth" (google "Compaine" and you’ll find it). In it, he skewers many of the assumptions repeated again and again in these debates. Here’s a piece of his executive summary: There is no support for the contention that media ownership by chains or conglomerates leads to any consistent pattern of lowered standards, content, or performance when compared with media owned by families or small companies; Publicly owned newspaper chains are less likely to have an ideological agenda they want to promote than those that are family controlled; and Television stations with cross-ownership-in which the parent company also owns a newspaper in the same market-tend to produce higher quality newscasts. I know two other researchers coming out with books that reach similar conclusions. We are overflowing with sources of information today. Just look at the frenzy over blogs and explain how that has led to a "concentration of control" of information. It’s time to deal with facts in this particular debate, not simply repeat worn-out, unsupported rhetoric.

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