Attorney General Says He'd Adjust Antitrust Policy To Save Newspapers

from the right-answer,-wrong-question dept

Attorney General Eric Holder has now said that he's open to adjusting antitrust policy to help save newspapers. This is a bit startling, for a variety of reasons, some of which are good, and some are very bad. First, the entire point of antitrust legislation isn't about saving "industries," but about protecting consumers and the economy from harm. There are times when creative destruction is a good thing, and adjusting antitrust powers to protect an industry being destroyed would be bad. That said, I actually tend to agree that antitrust claims are invoked way too often, and usually in situations where there's really no monopolistic behavior or no real problem.

Specifically, what Holder seems to be referring to is whether or not newspapers should be able to own other media properties, such as TV or radio stations. The whole media ownership debate is silly. The rules against "media consolidation" were designed for an era when all your media came from a very small number of official sources. These days, thanks to the internet, people have significantly more media choices than they've ever had before, and more new ones seem to be springing up every single day. Worrying about media consolidation such as that is quite silly. So, if Holder is willing to dump those rules as being outdated and useless, that's great.

But that's not what he's actually saying. He's saying that he'd adjust the rules to save newspapers:
"I think it's important for this nation to maintain a healthy newspaper industry. So to the extent that we have to look at our enforcement policies and conform them to the realities that that industry faces, that's something that I'm going to be willing to do.... I think that we need to have a healthy, vibrant newspaper industry, and I don't mean just online."
Now that's a problem. He's singling out a specific product -- the newspaper -- rather than the actual benefit -- good journalism. In other words, he's saying that the government should be picking journalism winners (the newspaper over alternatives) rather than letting the market decide. To me, that's troubling. It also suggests that he could conceivably be open to even more ridiculous proposals, such as letting all of the top news properties collude. As AG, Holder shouldn't be looking to prop up specific businesses or products.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 19th, 2009 @ 2:25pm

    I think Mr. Holder should stick to doing things the AG is supposed to do, like uphold the Constitution and enforce the law, and leave economics to those who are appointed to that duty, and who have training and experience in economics. Since when do lawyers think they're experts at everything?

     

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      GeneralEmergency (profile), Mar 19th, 2009 @ 2:42pm

      Re:

      Agreed.

      Mr. Holder might also want to consider avoiding insulting virtually every hardworking American by implying they are racists.

      I for one, found his comments on this topic personally insulting.

       

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    jonny_q, Mar 19th, 2009 @ 2:25pm

    So when the MSM tanks like certain other industries, is this administration is going to take it over as well? (Or, you know, take a majority stake in them...)

     

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    RD, Mar 19th, 2009 @ 2:37pm

    Someone please tell me...

    ...how the Govt is spending all its time finding ways to save and protect Corporations, and doing little to nothing about protecting its citizens that are its entire reason for being? And dont give me depression/recession/economy, because thats the price you pay for having a capitalist system. Sometimes, business FAIL. Thats the risk you take. But we are seeing a wholesale shift from the Govt to protecting big business at the expense of everyone else they are supposed to be looking out for.

     

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      Killer_Tofu (profile), Mar 20th, 2009 @ 6:03am

      Re: Someone please tell me...

      I thought the government stopped caring about the people and cared more for the corporations a long long time ago?
      Even Obama for all of his talk up until now hasn't done much in our favor over the corporations.
      I can honestly say that I am shocked that they will actually go after the AIG execs for the bonuses. Thoroughly shocked. Although it might just be because the public outlash at it is that darn large. Don't be surprised if they end up getting to keep most of it. Wait and see.

       

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    Paul Reinheimer, Mar 19th, 2009 @ 3:04pm

    Media Variety

    While the people reading this site definetly have access to a wide variety of different news outlets, they do not represent the entirety of the US population.

    A large number of people still get their news from an radio on the way to work, a newspaper with their morning break, and the evening news (or some subset thereof). I know a large number of blue collar workers who don't own a computer and see no need to (nor am I inclined to argue with them).

    I think for their sake we should prevent a single company from owning too much local share. If company X owned a big chunk of those three in any market they would effectively control the news for a notable segment of the population.

     

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      Matt, Mar 19th, 2009 @ 3:28pm

      Re: Media Variety

      Uh what? No they don't.

      If people valued radio or newspaper or evening news, it would get more business.

      Market speaks for itself and demands none of the above. We have other choices. Meanwhile, the market monopoly is limited to about 5 christian fundamentalists who control all of the US media (and ensuing decency issues), so what does it matter?

       

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        Dave, Mar 20th, 2009 @ 6:01am

        Re: Re: Media Variety

        Yes, they do. Go check the Neilsen ratings (or whoever does it in your country)

        Radio and television news programs are still a strong voice for large sectors of the popultation, especially older people.

        Just because you and your friends don't listen, doesn't mean that a large part of the country doesn't.

         

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    CmdrOberon, Mar 19th, 2009 @ 3:11pm

    > The whole media ownership debate is silly.
    > The rules against "media consolidation" were
    > designed for an era when all your media came
    > from a very small number of official sources.
    > These days, thanks to the internet, people have
    > significantly more media choices than they've
    > ever had before, and more new ones seem to be
    > springing up every single day.

    Are you stoned?

    Do you honestly think that the US media
    is any good at all? That the majority of people get
    their information from anything other than the 6 or
    so major news outlets? That majority ownership of
    practically all media in the country is in the hands of
    fewer than 12 huge corporations is a good thing?

    Are you familiar at all with any of the other news
    companies from other countries? DW? BBC?

    Your 'analysis' is becoming 'analysis lite' -- lots
    of posturing and 'statement of facts' without any backing
    references. Can you name some reputable media outlets that
    are producing news that reaches large numbers of readers
    besides MSM? Can you name any investigative journalists
    from this new media who've made startling revelations?

    The media consolidation in this country has got to stop.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Mar 19th, 2009 @ 3:26pm

      Re:

      he said media choices. Whether people utilize those outlets is another story altogether. But at least now, thanks to the internet, there are numerious other choices, such that media consolidation isn't a big issue anymore.

       

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        ehrichweiss, Mar 19th, 2009 @ 3:42pm

        Re: Re:

        yeah? and as the (already)big outlets get more readership which gives more advertising dollar, how do the smaller outlets keep from being put under? This is mob mentality we're talking about here, not utopian pipe dreams so choose your answer wisely. With the AP, NBA, NFL, NCAA, etc. bitching about standard fair use, and the high price if litigation, all it would take would be a good DMCA abuse to shut a site down permanently or at least cripple it beyond recognition thereby giving the major outlets an even bigger piece of the pie. Then if you get a scoop on something they don't, they'll use the fair use claim on YOU and since they have the capital to fight, you lose on that front as well.

        There's a reason I can't just start my own major news organization by myself(or even with a small group of friends): there are Goliath-sized incumbents and I'm less than a speck on their radar. They can drown me out with the push of a button and there's nothing to be done about it legally.

         

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      ehrichweiss, Mar 19th, 2009 @ 3:32pm

      Re:

      I have to agree here. The majority of Americans CAN get news from other sources but they don't; they stick with the few that have deep enough pockets to afford a full fledged(and typically flashy/sensationalist) web presence that also happened to be around in some other form of media when their parents were still children.

      Consolidation is what caused all of the good radio stations to simply go away when regulations were relaxed about how much a single corporation could own of a local market. Now the best station in my town is our non-commercial college radio station. Even my mother agrees it's better than the corporate rock/country/rap crap fed through the other 15 or so stations in the area because you can hear song X on WXXX and 2 minutes later hear it on WXXY.

      Sorry, the free market loses big time when it comes to this arena because it was greed and power that fueled the takeovers of radio stations, not some capitalist philosophy about how the market works in wet dreams.

       

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        Dave, Mar 20th, 2009 @ 6:05am

        Re: Re:

        Are you saying that ClearChannel isn't the best thing every to hit radio? It's great! It's better than sliced bread and everythign!

        You can now go anywhere in the country and hear the exact same music with the exact same voice saying the exact same thing at the exact same time! No need to worry about regional influence on music, it's all the same.

        Whenever I travel, I keep a copy of the ClearChannel website tattoo'd on my forehead!

         

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      Mike (profile), Mar 19th, 2009 @ 3:38pm

      Re:

      Do you honestly think that the US media
      is any good at all?


      I believe that among all of the media options there are many good sources and plenty of not so good ones. I don't see how that changes if you merge a couple of newspapers and radio stations.

      That majority ownership of
      practically all media in the country is in the hands of
      fewer than 12 huge corporations is a good thing?


      That's simply not true, but thanks for trying. The majority of today's media is spread wide across many different entities. You are defining media way too narrowly.

      Can you name some reputable media outlets that
      are producing news that reaches large numbers of readers
      besides MSM?


      Heh. That's a meaningless definition. The "internet" produces news that reaches large numbers of readers besides the MSM. You're using an artificial line in the sand. It's not about how many individual readers any particular source reaches... but the fact that there are more options out there than ever before, and if one particular source does a bad job, there are plenty of others to pick up the slack.

      The media consolidation in this country has got to stop.

      Why?

       

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        ehrichweiss, Mar 19th, 2009 @ 3:49pm

        Re: Re:

        "The "internet" produces news that reaches large numbers of readers besides the MSM."

        So explain why so many people will quote CNN, MSNBC, etc. instead of these alternatives that you seem to feel reach "large numbers of readers".

        I was in a discussion about the fallacy(or lack thereof) of global warming being caused by humans with a Huffington Post blogger and she was QUICK to use the major outlets to try to prove her point. Most bloggers in general(you may be included, I haven't done any analysis to say for certain) take the majority of their subject material from those same outlets, even if the ones that discuss "alternative" news. A good example for techdirt that supports my assertion is that you, Mike, often put up stories from the exact same news sources. Why are YOU not taking your news from alternates? You were even linking to AP news until the fair use fiasco came about.

         

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          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, Mar 19th, 2009 @ 4:02pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          First, Techdirt doesn't consider itself a News source, it is commentary on the news surrounding tech and copyright and such, that narrows the scope that Mike would be reading news from.

          Second, and more importantly, the fact that Mike so easily switched away from the AP when it became distasteful kinda proves his point. Yes he has used them but soon as they no longer served his needs he quickly and easily found alternate sources.

           

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        mattyk, Mar 19th, 2009 @ 7:26pm

        Re: Re:

        "The media consolidation in this country has got to stop.
        Why?" - I can't believe a 'journalist' would have to ask this question. In Australia, 2-3 companies own virtually all the nation's media - including onling news services. Without the legislation we have in place it would be even more monopololised. There is only one reason for a company to concentrate its assets in media: to push their own political agenda. How would you feel if Fox was the only major news distributor - would you trust them not to use their bias for political means even more than they do now.

         

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          mobiGeek, Mar 19th, 2009 @ 9:12pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Who are you accusing of being a journalist here?

          And so what if one company ends up owning all of the media in a country? The population would quite quickly grow tired of the monotony and new competitors would pop up to fill the demand for different voices.

          I honestly believe that in North America, we're headed towards a major shift in news outlets specifically because the current media is either too radical or too bland. We need truly objective (and intelligent) journalism, and the big boys don't offer that.

           

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    Erv Server, Mar 19th, 2009 @ 3:24pm

    nonsense

    Tv stations and radio stations are losing money as well

     

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    Clueby4, Mar 19th, 2009 @ 4:05pm

    Fine ignore reality on consolidation; but no ISPs!

    Sure if you want to play the "head in the sand" game and ignore what media consolidation has done. (Iraq alone should be enough of an illustration for even the most feeble minded)

    However, media companies should not be allow to own ISPs, it's simply too much of a temptation.

     

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    Bruce, Mar 19th, 2009 @ 4:58pm

    Re: Ehrichwiess

    "...and as the (already)big outlets get more readership which gives more advertising dollar, how do the smaller outlets keep from being put under?..."
    "...They can drown me out with the push of a button and there's nothing to be done about it legally..."

    Which is why we need to ensure the US Gov't abandons it's protectionist policies and rolls back the DMCA disaster.
    The market should decide who produces the most useful and legitimate news outlets and not the Government.

     

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