Where’s he Been?

Back in the day, a comment from Sen. John McCain seemed like a mandatory part of every policy news story. But I haven’t heard a peep from him in a while. He voted for the latest tax cut debt increase package, but had no widely publicized comments. In any event, he’s apparently decided that media consolidation is too important to be decided on a 3-2 vote by the FCC, without Congressional input or approval:

“I have a long voting record in support of deregulation. But the business of media ownership, which can have such an immense effect on the nature and quality of our democracy, is too important to be dealt with so categorically [by a small group of regulators.].”

In general, I’m a fan of deregulation, particularly in markets where barriers to entry are not overwhelming (look what deregulation did for airline ticket prices and your long distance bill). But the mass media business does seem to have barriers to entry; as it stands, Viacom, Disney, AOL/Time-Warner, and NewsCorp probably produce around 70% of the content you see on cable. Newpaper ownership is also highly concentrated. So there is significant potential risk of further consolidation and the exercise of market power once the new rules are in effect. An issue this big really should be under the purview of Congress, rather than an appointed commission. Of course, even if the new rules do take effect, media consolidation will still be subject to review by the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. On the one hand, that didn’t do much to stop Clear Channel from assembling a radio empire (there were some negotiated spin-offs), but the Department of Justice did recently block the merger of Echostar and DirectTV.