The Trump Administration wants to cut back on virtually all public broadcasting -- essentially allowing it to fend for itself as a media organization, and letting the media marketplace figure it out.
But do the same rules apply to corporate media-TV deals?
A longtime conservative point of view is to focus on less government. So the decision to scale back funding for public broadcasting comes as no surprise.
The Trump Administration wants to go further: Cutting back the government’s spending to pretty much zero. Under a new proposed federal budget, the government only wants to contribute $15 million for public media in 2019 and 2020, versus the $445 million per year it previously committed.
Over the last several decades, public broadcasting has weaned itself away from federal support. Now the Corporation for Public Broadcasting contributes -- on average -- just 15% of a non-commercial TV station's budget.
Strangely, this future “hands-off” marketplace does not seem to apply to other media-TV decisions/moves — such as the potential $85 billion AT&T and Time Warner merger.
Late last year, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit to stop the deal because AT&T would "use its control of Time Warner's popular programming as a weapon to harm competition." The concern is that consumer pricing could escalate.
AT&T and others proponents say the deal comes amid growing digital media competition from big companies (Facebook, Google, Amazon) -- as well as other similar “vertical” media mergers, like Comcast/NBCUniversal. Under this logic, AT&T, a communications/pay TV service, should be allowed to merge with Time Warner, a TV/movie content producer.
At the same time, a horizontal media merger -- of sorts -- looks to take place: Walt Disney Corp’s potential $52.4 billion deal for about half of 21st Century Fox business. Would that harm competition when it comes to premium TV-movie content consolidation? Would that lead to higher consumer fees? Some would say it would.
With all the media disruption -- among traditional and new digital media players -- maybe the marketplace should decide all cases.
But if you protect media consumers -- not only because of price considerations (AT&T/Time Warner) -- you need to take different approaches. Perhaps, as some suggest, there should be regulation of digital media companies that distribute fake/misleading news unwittingly from unsupervised fake accounts.
Until then, supporting all news media organizations -- including public broadcasting TV stations, and maybe other news platforms -- will help the competition the Trump Administration says it wants.