Last Mondayâ€™s Washington Post editorial against a â€œnetwork neutralityâ€ policy illustrates one of the problems when media outlets have far-ranging business interests elsewhere. They usually fail to acknowledge and clearly explain their numerous conflicts of interestsâ€”conflicts that may have shaped their editorial position.
In dismissing the call for an open and non-discriminatory broadband Internet as merely the concerns of those interested in a â€œdemocratic utopia,â€ the Post sided with its big media phone and cable brethren. The Post did disclose, in an aside, that since it â€œowns both cable and Web sitesâ€ it had â€œcommercial interests on both sides of this issue.â€ But the Post wasnâ€™t really being honest with its readers. For example, the Post should have disclosed its parent company is part of the anti-network neutrality movement. The Post Co.â€™s cable T.V. division president sits on the board of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association; the NCTA is leading the charge against the passage of any network neutrality safeguard. Since it owns those cable systems and their broadband connections, the Post can make sure its content receives preferential treatment in those markets. Moreover, the Post-Newsweek string of TV stations have received (as a result of lobbying Congress), a free set of digital airwaves. The Post will be able to use its digital TV beachfront property to receive preferential broadband treatment in such key markets as Detroit, Houston, Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville, and San Antonio. It will use this broadband power to help give its already successful web properties, such as Washington Post Interactive and Slate, the needed boost that others wonâ€™t likely have without network neutrality rules. (In its most recent [March 7, 2006] annual 10 k report to the SEC, the Post Co. called such Net safeguards a â€œregulatory burdenâ€).
The Post should also have acknowledged that it is politically supporting the rollback of the broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership safeguard at the FCC. In a world without media ownership limits and protections for network neutrality, companies such as the Post know they will come out at the top of the media food chain.