Bigger isn’t better

Symposium speakers warn of large media cos.

PHILADELPHIA — Big media companies getting even bigger pose a threat to freedom and democracy, and Americans have an interest and obligation in opposing the trend, a symposium concluded on Wednesday.

Several leading critics of easing media ownership rules — as the Federal Communications Commission proposed unsuccessfully two years ago — cautioned against letting media congloms acquire more properties and outlets.

Quoting a Jack Valenti statement from more than 10 years ago, Jonathan Rintels, exec director of the Center for Creative Voices in Media, said to a crowded auditorium at Drexel U., “Concentration of power in any medium is to be feared and must be curbed.”

Other speakers at the symposium on media consolidation included FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, who warned that “homogenized programming” occurs when too many media outlets are in too few hands. The result is fewer voices raising fewer questions — unhealthy for a free society. “Consolidation rewards imitation, not innovation,” Adelstein added. “Formulas that worked in the past are what you keep getting.”

Gene Kimmelman, senior director for public policy at the watchdog group Consumers Union, said, “The mass market is not serving creativity, diversity, freedom or democracy.”

Creative artists could suffer the most, said Andrew Schwartzman, prexy of the Media Access Project. “Artists should consider opposing consolidation as part of their work.”

Screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard (“Ali,” “Remember the Titans”) agreed. “Major Hollywood studios are all parts of congloms. If one part of the business — say, some radio stations — are fined for indecency violations, the others in the conglom, including the studios, run scared,” Howard said. “What happens is provocative ideas for movies end up going nowhere,” he added.

The overall result, all speakers agreed, was an insidious form of censorship. “Consolidation inhibits freedom of expression,” Howard said.

No members of large media companies were invited to speak at the symposium.

A federal court stayed the FCC’s 2003 attempt to loosen ownership rules and instructed the agency to better explain and justify what it was trying to do. The commission is likely to take up the rules again in the near future, and big media companies are hoping the FCC will succeed the second time.

Adelstein and fellow Democratic commissioner Michael Copps voted against easing the rules, but the FCC’s Republican majority prevailed until the federal court issued the stay. Copps was supposed to attend the symposium but had to cancel due to a family emergency.

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