Saturday, January 10, 2004

Fox and media concentration

The least cogent argument I have heard against liberalizing media ownership rules in the US is "media diversity is very important because we want political diversity, and look at how bad Fox News is." The field was crowded, but this one is clearly the best at being the wooliest.

Firstly, if you want diveristy in your media, and diversity in your political opinions, Fox should clearly be your most favorite station. It's view point is clearly different from ABC, NBC, CBS, and WB, and it's also clearly political, meaning it inject lashings of diversity and political awareness into a medium where people claim they value such things. You may not agree with it's point of view, but hey, diversity of opinion pretty much *requires* you to hear something you don't agree with every now and again.

Secondly, it seems ludicrous to expect a perfectly diverse information stream from a single source. I know that journalists claim they endeavour to tell "both sides of the story", but this is something that people just aren't very good at, and I don't see why amateurs under deadlines should be any better at this than the rest of us. The "multiple sources, multiple viewpoints, pick what you like" approach seems much better -- the reporters do their work already knowing what the thematic elements of the story are, and people can pick and choose whatever their id requires at that moment.

People abroad like to claim that media in the US is of low quality. I sort of have to agree, although I disagree also. Pick up a copy of the Khaleej Times or Gulf News (my local papers growing up) and you'll see lots of hard-hitting international news, and very little "neighbourhood man trapped underneath pile of frozen dinners -- recovering in neighbourhood hospital, suing Frozen Dinner company". And the cheap sensationalism of TV news is an embarassment. The regard accorded to the New York Times has always confused me, as I never thought it was much good and still don't.

With that said, the proliferation of papers, TV channels, cable channels, magazines, web sites etc. etc. give people choice which is unparalleled anywhere else. The upshot of this, I assume, is that individual outlets can specialize in catering to a particular type of person, or more realistically, a particular type of person in a particular mood (GQ, the Economist, and the New Yorker undoubtedly have some cross readership). This means that you can carve high-brow stuff entirely out of the whatever you use to distract yourself on the daily commute and publish "Foreign Affairs" instead.

Oh -- someone over at Reason has done a little math looking at media concentration. Worth reading.



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