Friday, May 11, 2007

Free market media?

Robert McChesey sees a role for the governement in the future of media.

"The inaccurate assumption here is that the United States has always had (or should have) a natural "free market" media system... The free market should be left alone to work its genius unencumbered by bureaucrats.

The problem is that we do not have a free market media system in the United States. We never had one. We never will. What we have developed over the course of our history is a profit-driven media system—but it is not free market. And it is barely competitive in an economic sense of the term.

Our media system is not a "free market" because it is built largely upon extraordinary government subsidies. The government has been in the middle of building our media system from the beginning. Perhaps no other industry this size has anywhere near as much direct and indirect government support and involvement. Consider the value of monopoly licenses to radio and TV channels or monopoly cable TV franchises. Or consider the value of copyright protection, a government created monopoly privilege. We are talking tens of billions of dollars in annual subsidies. The list goes on and on.

I am not opposed to government subsidies. I think they are unavoidable. Like Madison and Jefferson, who instituted enormous printing and postal subsidies to spawn a vibrant press, I believe they are the price of building a democratic media culture. The problem in recent times is that the policymaking process has gotten so corrupt that the giants firms that dominate media and telecommunication give back very little in exchange for the bounty bestowed upon them. We hear a lot of PR hokum about brilliant entrepreneurs and free markets. But huge corporations like AT&T and Comcast were created based on government monopoly licenses. Their "competitive advantage" comes with owning politicians and regulators, not serving consumers... These firms would not know a free market if it kicked them in the butt."

Spot on!

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