Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Scholar Seeks to Lessen Grip of First Amendment

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Scholar Seeks to Lessen Grip of First Amendment

Article excerpt

A legal scholar says media giants are pitting the letter of the First Amendment against the spirit of the First Amendment.

The scholar is Burt Neuborne, who teaches law at New York University and has long been involved in civil liberties causes.

Neuborne was at St. Louis University on Sunday and Monday to deliver the fifth annual Millstone Lecture. The series is named for the late James C. Millstone, who was an assistant managing editor of the Post-Dispatch. In Monday's lecture, Neuborne asked whether the concentration of media ownership in increasingly fewer hands threatened free speech. His answer: yes. His solution: a touch less liberty under the Constitution's First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of the press. Neuborne said American society was drifting toward "a situation in which a handful of media conglomerates, motivated by profit maximization, have enormous control over what people see and hear." He asked, "To the extent that the First Amendment insulates media conglomerates, is the First Amendment destroying its own values? At this point, we ought to see whether the First Amendment is getting in the way of the free flow of ideas." The notion of a media giant such as Time Warner could not have occurred to those who wrote the Bill of Rights. Back then, free speech involved two parties: The speaker, who stood separate from the press. The conduit - the press itself. "And through most of our culture, that's the way it was," Neuborne said. "John Peter Zenger was a printer, not a speaker." But in the second half of the 19th century, technology produced the rotary press. "Suddenly, the printers also became the speakers," Neuborne said - an early example of vertical integration. But the simplicity of printing kept competition alive. Then came the technological explosions of the 20th century, accompanied by what Neuborne called "an exponential growth in vertically integrated units. As more and more merge, we have a universe of massive vertically integrated units, making money both from programming and from disseminating it." The biggest rewards go to those who use in-house programming, he said. …

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