The Washington Post’s editorial board on Network Neutrality: Boy, do they need someone who knows the media business working there!

The Washington Post’s editorial position on media and communications policy issues has generally taken a pro-consolidation line over the years. This is ironic and sad, especially given the concerns expressed by the paper’s two top editors about the dramatic decline of quality in U.S. journalism. But in their much acclaimed “News about the News: American Journalism in Peril,” Len Downie Jr. and Robert G. Kaiser fail to acknowledge at all the role which consolidation contributes to the deterioration of journalism. For the impact of media industry lobbying on media ownership has led to newsroom cutbacks and an industry orientation to journalism `light.’ But Downie and Kaiser—as well as their editorial board colleagues—fail to make the connection between regulatory safeguards and a media system that serves a broad range of information needs in a democracy. Nor is the Post ever clear to its readers about what it is really doing when it comes to lobbying Washington to advance its own corporate interests. For example, the paper has never well explained the Post Co.’s political support for the elimination of the broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership safeguard (which is about to be taken up, once more, by the FCC).

In the case of network neutrality, the Post should have been more candid about the political role its parent (Washington Post Co.) is playing. It’s not as simple as [we have] “interests on both sides of this issue.” The Post Co’s cable subsidiary president, Thomas O. Might, has been on the cable lobby board of directors (NCTA) for years. The Post therefore has been intimately involved in the closed-door strategy developed by the NCTA to over-turn the rules requiring an open, non-discriminatory Internet. In addition, the Post’s clout enables it to distribute its content over GE/NBC/Microsoft online properties–something a start-up would find it difficult to readily obtain.
On the merits of the Post’s argument, we can only say that they are either being disingenuous with readers or are incredibly naïve about the media business. In its editorial, they dismiss our concerns that–in the absence of network neutrality– the Internet will come to resemble the cable T.V. industry. They claim that technology will ensure the low-cost production of content. But what they ignore is that like cable, the company that controls the wires (or airwaves, in the case of wireless), can determine how each packet of content fares on the network. The few cable and phone companies, which now control 98% of the U.S. broadband market, can use their power to choose winners and losers (as the cable TV industry has done with video programming). In addition, those content providers that can best promote and process their interactive content will also have a digital leg up. Without net neutrality, the online programming owned or affiliated with the phone and cable broadband duopoly will always be in the lead.

As for speculation—it’s not. The equipment to control the Net’s future is being rolled out, as we speak

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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