Experts on media deregulation

by Eszter Hargittai on September 24, 2003

Despite some worries that Hurricane Isabel may wash away TPRC, it was held this past weekend in Arlington, VA and lived up to its reputation as a wonderful meeting for those interested in various communications policy issues. It is the only conference I have attended consistently without fail since I first showed up there five years ago. It is always held in the DC area to ensure a good turnout from government representatives (or I’m assuming that’s a reason for its location).

It’s a good conference for the following reasons:

1. high quality of papers (this year’s acceptance rate was around 25%)
2. a relatively small and friendly group that has been getting together for years but is also very open to meeting new participants
3. a great mix of people from government (mostly the FCC but others as well), the private sector (fewer reps now than a couple of years ago) and academia (mostly economists and legal scholars but various other social scientists and some others as well)

Not surprisingly, the issue of media deregulation came up throughout the conference. There was a lunch-time debate between Andrew Schwartzman of the Media Access Project and Randolph May of the Progress & Freedom Foundation about this. A point Andy Schwartzman kept bringing up was that now with the availability of so much information on the Internet, there should be less concern about what is available via other media.

This is a point that has come up numerous times during discussions about media deregulation in the past few months as well. But there are problems with this approach. Some of the biggest news sources online are just replicas of more traditional news sources. CNN, ABC, NBC are some of the largest online players for news. You could argue that if that’s where people prefer to get information then so be it. However, it would be hard to argue that people’s actions simply reflect their preferences. Work I have done shows that many people lack the necessary skills to find anything and everything on the Web. So even though lots of material is available, it is not necessarily realistically accessible to many. Moreover, given the way content is organized online – the way ISPs and big portals feature some content more prominently than other content – not all Web pages are created equal regardless of their quality.

Related to this issue was an especially intriguing presentation by Eli Noam on the increasing market concentration in the Internet sector. His work finds that the Internet sector is more concentrated than other media industries. Unfortunately, the paper does not offer details about methodology (e.g. what exactly counts for Internet sector in his analyses), but he seems to be writing a related book so hopefully there will be more information available on this.

Overall, it was good to see that representatives from the FCC did not seem to take for granted the Internet’s role in bringing diversity of opinion to the masses.



Chun the Unavoidable 09.24.03 at 9:50 pm

I just posted an entry on my own little blog that asked, among other things, if acceptance rate is a good measure of quality. Your comment about this conference suggests that it is.

I was asking in terms of journals specifically, but the question is still valid. For acceptance rate to be a measure of quality, there has to be a sufficient range of submissions. A journal that publishes 100 articles out of a thousand per year would be better, ceteris paribus, than one which published 10 out of a 100, I suspect.

Another way of asking the question would be, if you know nothing about a journal’s content and need to evaulate it, would acceptance rate and total submissions be enough information? Also, how common is it for journals to misreport this information to gathering bodies?


eszter 09.24.03 at 9:56 pm

Yes, that’s a good point. I felt confident making that comment because I was on the Program Committee of TPRC this year, which means that I took part in evaluating the submissions. We had about 85 accepted papers from over 300 submissions. Having read through dozens and dozens of submissions, I can say with confidence that this is a very selective conference given that we had to turn down numerous good papers.


PG 09.24.03 at 10:41 pm

What has amazed me the most about media de-regulation is the success that activists have had in communicating their concerns to politicians. Superficially, this doesn’t seem like a big deal — at least, not compared to bread-and-butter policy like entitlements, education, etc. — yet a good cross-section of the Senate voted to override the FCC’s de-regulation. People like Trent Lott, even.


brayden 09.25.03 at 5:55 am

Responding to the previous comment –

I think it is a mistaken perception that Senators overrode the FCC’s rule changes because they were responding to an outraged public, or even a slightly distraught constituency. Most people do not know about the rule changes or even care about them that much.

Not surprisingly, many politicians feel they have a vested interest in ensuring media diversity. Trent Lott, in particular, has voiced his opinion against the “liberal” media bias. Meanwhile, Democrats are shriveling at the growing Murdoch empire. Politicians may be acting in their own interest by opposing the FCC’s rule changes. Whether or not their perception of media influence is accurate is another question.


raj 09.25.03 at 11:29 am

Media deregulation? Oh, please, give me a break.

The FCC creates an artificial shortage for broadcast media–in the form of licenses–which hasn’t been deregulated. The only thing that IS being deregulated–or for which regulation is being loosened–is ownership rules for those licenses. Thereby fostering an increase in concentration.

And regarding cable, most cities and towns license one–count them, ONE–cable provider for the town. And, other than local broadcast outlets that it is required to carry, the cable provider determines what it will carry. And, quite frankly, more than a few of the various channels that are provided over cable (and over satellite dish, for that matter) are owned by only a very few media companies.

The internet? Information? Let’s not get started on that. There is much that is useful available over the internet. But any idiot can set up a web site, and more than a few have.

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