Ad Age reports that Commerce Committee Chair Sen. Ernest Hollings plans to hold a hearing in that committee on the issue of media consolidation and its effect on diversity and public service in the media. He criticizes the DC Circuit Court for striking down the FCC rule that bars a company from owning both a TV station and a cable company in the same market. Because the rule was struck down due to the Court’s finding that the FCC did not adequately explain a rationale for the specific limits, Hollings could conceivably move to remedy this by introducing legislation addressing this issue.
At the same time the lower house of the Italian parliament is set to vote on a conflict of interest law that addresses the Italian Prime Minister’s ownership of Italy’s largest media company. As it turns out the law addresses this conflict of interest simply by saying it’s OK for the PM to own a business as long as he isn’t president of the company while in office. According to the BBC, the bill is likely to pass the lower house since PM Berlusconi’s party enjoys a healthy majority there. Opponents of the PM who fear such a monstrous consolidation of political and media power have agitated for Berlusconi to divest himself of his media holdings, something which he promised to do during his campaign.
Recall that just a week ago the Berlusconi government’s police raided several non-profit organizations in search of the Italian IMC, which actually does not have its own offices. Apparently the police were looking for records and information regarding the police raids on the Genoa Social Forum and temporary IMC offices last July, that happened during protests against G8 meetings held in Genoa.
What’s going in Italy is an astonishingly clear example of a political leader using the police power of the state to intimidate, coerce and punish opposition media that threaten both his political power and his corporate power as a media mogul. As a grassroots, non-profit and decentralized collective, Indymedia can’t be stamped out like some other competitor in the “marketplace.” Indymedia cannot be underpriced, cannot have it’s advertisers stolen, and can’t be bought out. The only kind of pressure that has any chance of working is violence and force, and apparently Berlusconi is unafraid to use it. The most frightening thing about it is that there is a snowball’s chance in hell that his own media company’s journalists would fairly cover this or air real criticism of their boss. The media-watching Italian public are kept amusedly ignorant and properly in line. Berlusconi has a lock on Italy’s mass media that Bush, Cheney and their henchmen can only have wet dreams about.
But don’t think it can’t happen here. For all intents and purposes, Italy is a democracy, just like the US, and Burlusconi is a duly elected leader, just like Bush (well, almost… I think Berlusconi had a larger mandate. But that might be because Bush only had relatives in the media — he didn’t own them outright). Don’t be surprised when our next CEO, er, president is the ex- or current CEO of Time/Warner/Turner/Disney/AT&T/Enron. Then pirating that mp3 will get you life. Burning a CD of it, death.