Last year, I expressed serious reservations about the proposed AT&T-Time Warner merger. I argued, at the time, that allowing this merger will have important implications for a free press and American democracy for many years to come.
I reasoned that by approving the merger, more media concentration would follow and the liberal media would gain an even bigger foothold on what Americans see and hear on television.
I still believe that is true, but over the last 12 months, many more concerning deals have been announced and Donald Trump’s own FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, has all but eliminated the last remaining regulatory hurdles protecting us from a liberal media monopoly. Donald Trump had campaigned against this “concentration of media power.”
Today, the Department of Justice is the only federal agency left protecting conservative viewpoints.
So while I still believe the AT&T-Time Warner merger has some serious concerns, I am now more troubled by what may happen to CNN and Time Warner if AT&T fails to buy them.
AT&T over the years has proven itself as a fair-minded company. It is not known as liberal. It’s CEO, Randall Stephenson, is national president of the Boy Scouts.
There is talk that if AT&T either divests itself of CNN to make a deal possible, or drops the deal altogether, CNN could end up in the hands of Disney, CBS or another liberal media group. What’s stopping George Soros from buying them?
I am also concerned the Justice Department’s relentless pursuit of AT&T is allowing other mergers to perhaps sail through, deals that will most certainly be calamitous for conservatives and the Republican party.
Take, for example, the proposed merger of Sinclair Broadcasting with Tribune Media. This merger, announced roughly six months after the AT&T deal, attempts to combine two giant television broadcasters.
If consummated, this deal would give Sinclair control over 233 stations reaching 72 percent of all U.S. households under the control of one company.
Sinclair leans conservative, and that looks good at first. But the approval of the Sinclair deal will permit ABC, CBS and NBC to gobble up all those little TV stations in red states and even in swing states. Instead of local, independent owners delivering the local news, the big networks like NBC will control and dictate it from New York.
Back in the 1980s my father’s FCC limited television broadcasters to owning just 12 stations reaching only 25 percent of the national television market. My dad completely understood the danger posed by the big liberal networks.
Frankly, President Trump won because my dad imposed that TV ownership cap. One of the reasons that Sinclair became a big player in local news is that my dad created the ownership cap to prevent NBC, ABC and CBS from owning all the local television stations around the country.
If President Trump allows this runaway consolidation in TV, liberal media networks like ABC, NBC and CBS will soon control both the national and local information flow into our homes.
Interesting, the approval of the AT&T will not add at all to AT&T’s media power. It currently owns little media. If it gets control of outlets like CNN, this may turn out to be a good thing for President Trump and the American people.
But the real danger facing us now is the Sinclair Tribune deal. It will not only lead to a massive concentration of power, but give TV networks incredible leverage over smaller, independent stations, advertisers and cable operators, reducing competition and forcing consumer prices up. You don’t need to be an economist to know if three companies own 80 percent of the gas stations in your town, you are going to pay a higher price.
I would encourage the Justice Department to look at ways to approve the AT&T deal with protections for viewers and consumers.
At the same time it should focus on the transaction that really matters and take steps to stop the massive consolidation that is set to be ignited by the Sinclair deal.