25

Journalism, media
conglomerates and the Federal
Communication commission
Oliver Boyd-Barrett
Do US Administrations barter business opportunities for media support?
Can US news media perform a public service watchdog role?
Is ownership of US news media too concentrated?
Were the FCC's 2003 deregulation proposals designed to serve special interests or the public good?

In June 2003, the five members of the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 3-2 (three Republicans, two Democrats) in support of changes to rules governing media ownership – changes that would probably intensify media merger and acquisition activity. The precise wording was not available either to Congress or to the public in advance of the vote. Chairman Michael Powell resisted calls for a delay to the vote, as he would later resist attempts to delay implementation of the changes (Ahrens 2003b).

George Bush appointed Michael Powell shortly after Bush acceded to the US presidency in 2001. Michael was son of Secretary of State Colin Powell who, three months before the June vote, prosecuted what critics believe was an illegal war of invasion and occupation of Iraq, on the false pretexts that Iraq had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction, and was a threat to the US. Mainstream media support for the war was almost unanimous, uncritical and enthusiastic (but later more reserved, in face of evidence of Administration duplicity, Iraqi chaos, evidence of torture of Iraqis by US military and prison guards, and increased terrorism worldwide) (Boyd-Barrett 2003a). I believe we should ask whether, in 2002-3, media giants bartered their support for Bush's 'total spectrum dominance' policy in return for regulatory changes that would facilitate business acquisitions in lucrative media markets. Was their later (muted) criticism of the war a reaction to heated congressional resistance to the changes? Or was their

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