If a country of 20 million with a handful of powerful media owners no longer needs rules to regulate media ownership, why doesn’t the same argument apply to a country of 300 million which has dozens of powerful media owners?
Over the last few days, as the Australian government has been busy applying the finishing touches to legislation that will dramatically increase concentration of media ownership in this country, a far more robust and open public debate on the same subject is unfolding in America.
On Tuesday, at the first of six US government hearings to debate cross-media ownership, “hundreds of people, including actors, writers and musicians” implored the Federal Communications Commission to “prevent media conglomerates from growing even bigger”. The hearings follow a 2003 decision by the FCC to repeal America’s cross-media rules — a decision which sparked a popular revolt, congressional action and a federal appeals court ruling that sent the issue back to the agency for reconsideration.
While most Australian politicians have remained mute on the dangers of handing over even more power to a few influential media owners, the same debate in the US is less constrained:
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“Without diversity in ownership and participation, our democracy is in danger.” — Congresswoman Maxine Waters (Democrat).
“The media are vital to our democracy … We want to create a true free market where everyone can have a seat at the table. We need to ensure that the power of American entrepreneurialism is not stifled by just a few media giants.” — Congresswoman Diane Watson (Democrat).
“Too few people own too much media at the expense of too many people … There is a gap between those who own the airwaves — the people the public — and those who control the airwaves and act against the public interest.” — civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson.
Why are Australian politicians – and journalists, writers, actors and musicians — so quiescent on the subject of increasing media ownership in fewer hands while, in a parallel debate, their American counterparts are so vocal? Could it have something to do with … the intimidating power of a tiny cabal of media owners in a country of 20 million?