The Progressive Ensign

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Category: Public Interest

AT & T Wins Time-Warner – Americans Lose Free Press

 

Photo: Free Press

A federal court judge approved the $85 billion bid by AT &T of Time – Warner, creating a huge vertically integrated media giant.  The judge found no need for the kind of conditions placed on the Comcast acquisition of NBC Universal in 2011, or ensuring a free press.  Though both cases are quite similar in that AT & T and Comcast are both major media companies acquiring content providers and news organizations (NBC, and CNN).  In approving the Comcast – NBC bid, the judge laid out detailed conditions to protect consumers, requiring adherence to net neutrality for Internet supported content providers and assistance for low income users. Since the Comcast – NBC merger Comcast has violated several provisions of the agreement as outlined by former FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn and Senator Richard Blumenthal including: not adhering to network neutrality in providing channels to consumers, slow implementation of low income Internet assistance programs, not providing smaller cable channels with fair rates to access regional sports networks and discriminated against Bloomberg Television (a competitor of CNBC).   Clyburn and Blumenthal in their op-ed piece pose three key questions to be answered in every major merger (our answer):

  1. How will consumers be affected? Negatively by lack of competition
  2. What will this do to competition in the industry? Reduce competition significantly
  3. What will it mean for small businesses? Small businesses will be squeezed out of the market

For some reason, the court in the AT & T – Time Warner case did not seem interested in answering these questions related to safeguarding consumers, businesses or freedom of the press. Federal regulators found in the Comcast – NBC bid the need for 150 conditions to be placed on the merged corporate organization.

Today, the court saw a need for no conditions?  Why? When we have a deregulation federal government policy wave rolling across the country today it is even more imperative that conditions be in place if these giant mergers are to be approved.

Next steps:

Our position is the merger juggernaut needs to be stopped now, and this merger not approved – later we will have to break it up anyway.  Mergers contribute to lack of jobs as well which hurt wage gains by workers.  Media concentration limits access to information and choices for media coverage. In 1983, 90 % of media, entertainment and distribution markets were controlled by 50 companies, today, there are 6 major players:

By approving the AT &T – Time-Warmer deal the court is giving a green light to deals now under review like the Disney bid (Comcast biding too) for 21st Century media which would create yet another huge conglomerate strangling competition and reducing the number of news sources. Other major Internet players are waiting in the wings like Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook who are flush with cash and looking to control both the Internet, broadcast and film content and distribution.

We have said that deals like this need to be reviewed in supporting the common good ensured by freedom of the press.  This AT &T deal should not be approved on media concentration and press limitation grounds.  Jefferson and Madison observed correctly that a democracy can not long survive without a well-informed citizenry making decisions based on multiple points of view. Major corporations win in deals like the AT &T – Time Warner merger, the American citizen loses.

Our Founding Leaders Believed Public Education Builds the Common Good

Image: Your Little Planet

Public education’s rightful role is as the Fifth Estate next to the Fourth Estate, the Press, as pillars of our government.  The judiciary, legislative and executive being the other three Estates. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in their writings on education knew it was crucial for the success of the country that all citizens (then it was white males) be well educated to use their knowledge to check the power of tyrants.

James Madison had tremendous vision, and steadfast hope that knowledge would triumph over ignorance when he said in a letter to W. T. Barry about a bill for Kentucky public education in 1822, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance”.  Today, we are finding out if his vision can be held up as true or will demagogues and tyranny rule the day through ignorance.  Madison focused on the means of acquiring knowledge as proving the power to overcome tyranny. “A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both.  He saw that the people must be armed with knowledge to have leverage over their rulers. “And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” Education provides the way for the intellectual development of all people to discern the truth from untruth, coming from any individual or the press. They gain the ability to lead themselves and to discern policies and leaders that are basing their ideas and plans on truth rather than fiction.

Thomas Jefferson sponsored a bill for public education in the Virginia legislature when he was Governor and wrote the following preamble to the law:

“Whereas it appeareth that however certain forms of government are better calculated than others to protect individuals in the free exercise of their natural rights, and are at the same time themselves better guarded against degeneracy, yet experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms, those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny; and it is believed that the most effectual means of preventing this would be, to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts, which history exhibiteth, that, possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purposes.” (Underlining is ours).

 The law, The Act to Establish Public Schools, was presented to the House of Delegates in 1778 and 1780 but was not passed until 1796, when Jefferson was serving as US ambassador to France, with continuous lobbying by his friend James Madison.

Jefferson was adamant that education was the antidote to tyranny when he wrote George Wythe on August 13, 1786 (the bill still had not passed, and would not for 10 more years), “I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. no other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom, and happiness.”

The relationship of freedom and learning was a closely held view by Madison as well when in 1822 in his letter to W.T. Barry he said, “What spectacle can be more edifying or more seasonable, than that of Liberty & Learning, each leaning on the other for their mutual & surest support?”

Madison continued in his letter to Barry that the poor should be in public school as well paid by the rich, “Whilst those who are without property, or with but little, must be peculiarly interested in a System which unites with the more Learned Institutions, a provision for diffusing through the entire Society the education needed for the common purposes of life…that it is better for the poorer classes to have the aid of the richer by a general tax on property, than that every parent should provide at his own expense for the education of his children, it is certain that every Class is interested in establishments which give to the human mind its highest improvements.”  He advocates that the property of the rich be taxed to support public education for all. Yet, in Europe education today is primarily funded by national governments. It is likely that Madison after experiencing the tyranny of the King of England did not want the national government as the source of funding for educating people on how to discern the truth from untruth expressed by national leaders.

To create a sense of the common good is to understand the views of immigrants he astutely observes, “An acquaintance with foreign Countries in this mode (learning institutions), has a kindred effect with that of seeing them as travellers, which never fails, in uncorrupted minds, to weaken local prejudices, and enlarge the sphere of benevolent feelings.”

Two hundred and twenty years ago since passing the Virginia public education act our country has changed the focus to educating, women, minority groups, and all members of society to be better informed, discern the truth and select democratic leaders.

Yet, how well has public education performed in its role to create the common good?  Next week, we will look at measuring public education achievements and failures in building a more democratic society.

Maybe We Do Make Choices for the Common Good – More Than We Think

 

Image: Your Little Planet

James Madison was concerned that the basic character of man was self-interest and he would not act if in a power position for the common good.  While, this self-interest aspect of people is turbo charged in capitalist nations, it may not be the choice many of us make when we see the light of the common good and make choices that benefit all of us. Certainly, Madison put great faith in a diverse, well informed citizenry making good choices for their representatives who would act with ‘enlightened interest in the public good’.  Our government of checks and balances provides a way for the this enlightened good idea to be discovered from free speech and forcing self-interested people to recognize they had gone too far and needed to see the needs of all the people.

Our media has taken the negative perspective (it sells advertising and gains attention) that there is a tragedy of the commons, which Prof Garrett Hardin popularized in 1968, that people have a tendency to always go for the self–interest choice, i.e. overgrazing a plot of land to make more money from the ever increasing number of livestock that a herder wants to graze causing overgrazing and killing the life support ability of the land.  There are countless examples of over farming from large regions like the Midwest in the 1930s causing huge dust storms and forcing migration of farmers to California and the West.  Today, we see self-interest to the max in stock buy backs where corporations purchase their own stock to reduce the number of shares and drive the price up, so executives and shareholders would make more money – at the expense of employees not receiving raises, investments in research to increase productivity and reduce product prices or increasing investments in employee training and development.

Yet, maybe we do make the choice for the common good when offered.  Lecturer, Dylan Selterman, at the University of Maryland, asked his students an extra credit question if they would like to have 2 or 6 extra credit points to your final grade, but if 10 % of the students asked for 6 extra points none would receive them.  Class after class would go over the 10 % limit, until he provided a third choice – altruistic – you can select zero points.  After offering the third choice enough selected the zero point or two-point option so that would be under the 10 percent limit. The classes learned if they were not too greedy with their extra credit point choice they all could win.

So, how does choice and information play a role in developing and implementing common good policy?  A 2008 classic study by consumer researchers found that if hotel guests were provided a message that said ‘the majority of guest reuse their towels’ then towel recycling would increase dramatically. While, today we are used to recycling towels there were two elements:  one – providing information that towel recycling would reduce water usage and two – you have a choice to reuse or not reuse your towel.

Source: Journal of Consumer Research – 2008

The common good dilemma in regulating industry is more challenging because of the profit motive and personal benefit in making more money by increasing profits and reducing costs.  For chemical factories, installing scrubbers and extra equipment to return cleaner air to the sky is a cost, while just using the air for their factory and workers is free. Yet, all people beyond the factory are hurt from air pollution.  Generally, penalties for violating air pollution standards, or court cases have been the only way to stop polluting behavior.  But is there another way; getting an industry sector to work together, see that in their own interests if they all reduce air pollution they will benefit because they all breathe cleaner air – and they all have the similar costs if they all install equipment or even share technology and air pollution equipment in a group purchase.  Maybe when everyone is taking action, it is seen as the right choice and reduce costs for all with the benefit that everyone will enjoy clean air. Plus, if everyone is making the same investment, the costs will be similar across the industry and no single company is hurt financially or by Wall Street analysts.

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