The Trump administration and the Republican congressional majority have had very limited legislative success. However, there are actions engendered by government agencies and Trump appointees within the administration that could have major impact.
There are the obvious examples of judicial appointments, with more to come. Most notable is the much-heralded nomination and confirmation of the overtly ideological Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Conservative Sen. Ted Cruz said the judicial appointments may have "the most long-lasting and significant impact" of any actions by the current administration.
Somewhat less noted, but with major potential ramifications, are a series of actions related to "the media." Just about any mention of "the media" stirs controversy these days, but there are critical media-related issues that go well beyond all the babbling about "fake news." Decisions by regulatory agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission, Federal Trade Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, can have dramatic impact -- as can actions by the Department of Justice.
This has been evident in recent developments, including the Department of Justice lawsuit to block the proposed merger of telecom-giant AT&T (which owns DirecTV) and media conglomerate Time Warner on anti-trust grounds. The Justice Department argues the $85 billion merger would create a dominant force. In his 2016 campaign and subsequently, Donald Trump has railed against this merger, calling it "too much concentration of power" and said it would not be approved by his administration.
There are legitimate questions about the merger's impact and some liberals are wary of big business getting much bigger. However, there is another important angle in this issue: political motivation. Trump doesn't hide his disdain for CNN, which is part of Time Warner, and many believe that is the real basis for government's opposition to the merger.
In an additional significant move, the Meredith Corp., publisher of magazines focused on home and family, is purchasing Time Inc., once a print powerhouse (Time, Sports Illustrated, People, etc.) but struggling in today's digital world. Time Warner, with properties such as CNN and sports and entertainment television, was spun off from Time Inc. in 2014. Meredith is buying Time Inc. with a major financial infusion from Charles and David Koch, well-known for their support of conservative causes.
Another major development is the Federal Communication Commission plan to terminate net neutrality rules put in place under the Obama administration. In what is seen as a pro-big-business move, the commission, now with a Republican 3-2 majority, would end the requirement that Internet companies must treat all websites and online services equally. Some consumer groups argue the move could allow big providers greater control over Internet content and enable those providers to charge more for services, give priority access to large Internet companies, and block some content. Tim Berners-Lee, the individual most responsible for development of the World Wide Web, calls the plan to repeal net neutrality a threat to the principle that all content on the Web should be treated equally.
A Federal Communication Commission decision to eliminate the "cross-ownership ban" has potentially profound consequences, too. It reversed, on 3-2 party-line vote, regulations intended to prevent a company or individual from dominating media ownership in a city. Now a single company would be allowed to own a newspaper and TV and radio stations in the same city. Already the agency had lifted limits on TV station ownership, allowing one company to greatly expand the number of stations it owns.
The prime example of this consolidation is the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which already ranked as the nation's largest TV station owner. Many Americans have not heard of Sinclair, but it is positioning itself to be highly influential. It is in the process of acquiring Tribune Media, another large owner of stations. If the deal is completed, Sinclair would own and operate 233 stations in 108 markets. For now, TV and local TV stations remain a prime news source, even in this day of cyber-communication.
Sinclair is known for right-wing orientation in its news coverage and pro-Trump commentary by Boris Epshteyn, which Sinclair requires its stations to carry. Critics of the Sinclair expansion say it is contrary to the Federal Communication Commission's mission to ensure diversity, competition and local control in broadcasting.
The acquisition of Tribune Media would be the first major deal since the commission under Republican leadership voted to relax broadcasting ownership rules. Most of Sinclair's stations have been in smaller markets, but the 42 Tribune-owned stations include many of the largest markets. Among the Sinclair-owned stations are KATV in Little Rock and KTUL in Tulsa. With completion of the Tribune deal, KFSM and KXNW of Fort Smith and Fayetteville will also become part of the Sinclair empire.
In this era of shifting media landscape, Sinclair stations would have an unprecedented national platform, able to reach 72 percent of U.S. households with inclusion of the stations that were owned by Tribune. That's certainly concentration of power.
Commentary on 11/29/2017
Print Headline: Concentrating power