PFF Senior Fellow On NPR’s “Talk of the Nation”
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The public would benefit from reform of the federal government’s outdated media ownership rules that were enacted well before the advent of channel and Internet surfing. That is the view of Randolph J. May of The Progress & Freedom Foundation, who was featured on NPR’s “Talk of the Town”, opposite Andrew Shwartzman of the Media Access Project on Tuesday. The Federal Communications Commission is contemplating a liberalization of those rules, with a meeting scheduled for June 2.
“The benefits [of reform] are that the marketplace, when there is competition – and in this marketplace there is now a vast amount of competition – generally delivers to the public the services that the public really values,” May told NPR host Neal Conan. “That includes news and information.”
May, who is senior fellow and director of communications policy studies at the Foundation, supports the rationale behind the rules’ enactment – maintaining a diversity of viewpoints, providing local information and ensuring competition. But he believes the rules are out-of-date. “There are a tremendous number of media outlets and sources of news and information that didn’t exist when these rules were put into place,” he said. “It was that lack of diversity in outlets that was the principal original rationale for the rules.”
News and information outlets include more than radio, standard television and newspapers, according to May. The Internet, and the power of search engines, adds mightily to the mix, as does the fact that 85 percent of American households subscribe to cable or satellite television. He reminded NPR listeners that the number of television stations has increased 68 percent and the number of national broadcast networks has risen from three to seven since 1980. Moreover, he noted, there are currently 230 cable program networks and 13,000 radio stations on the air.
Congress and the courts called for the current FCC reconsideration of the rules. The 1996 Telecommunications Act requires a review every two years, and on at least four occasions, courts have struck down the Commission’s existing rules for failing to take into account the changes that have occurred in the media marketplace.
The Progress & Freedom Foundation is a market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. It is a 501(c)(3) research & educational organization.