Owen Dismisses Flawed Models as FCC Weighs Rules
WASHINGTON D.C. - Any attempt to measure media ownership concentration is a "meaningless exercise in the abstract," argues Bruce Owen in a paper published by The Progress & Freedom Foundation. In "Confusing Success with Access: 'Correctly' Measuring Concentration of Ownership and Control in Mass Media and Online Services," Owen -- the Gordon Cain Senior Fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Research -- critiques media ownership concentration measurements used by the Federal Communications Commission and media critics.
"If ensuring that citizens have as much access as possible to potentially conflicting views is the objective," Owen writes, "then concentration is best measured by counting the noses of independent sources, without regard for their current economic success." The paper comes as the FCC is reconsidering media ownership regulations.
In "Confusing Success with Access," Owen dissects past efforts by Congress, the FCC and the courts to measure media ownership and regulate accordingly. Access requirements, limits on concentration, diversity of viewpoint and merger guidelines are all examined. After examining failed measurement models in these areas, Owen concludes that "traditional antitrust models and measurement techniques are, broadly, as good as it gets; there is no need for a special antitrust approach to media industries."
"Measurement is meaningless in a vacuum," says Owen, but regulators often seek media ownership measurements without a clear consensus on what it is that one should measure and why. "In policy analysis, the choice of a method of measurement follows from the adoption of a goal, or an understanding of the nature of a problem, rather than the other way around." Among the challenges is defining the market in which the measurements are to take place.
"Confusing Success with Access" is the latest publication by PFF's Center for Digital Media Freedom (CDMF), which aims to protect America 's sacred First Amendment heritage and promote enlightened public policy regarding all forms of communications.. Center Director Adam Thierer recently published "Media Myths: Making Sense of the Debate Over Media Ownership," a book that debunks longstanding arguments in favor of aggressive regulation of media ownership.
Owen is the author or co-author of numerous articles and books on media economics, including Television Economics (1974), Economics and Freedom of Expression (1975) and Video Economics (1992). In 1981 he was the Chief Economist of the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and, earlier, of the White House Office of Telecommunications Policy.
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.