Symposium 2016: The Senate Judiciary has conducted hearings on the proposed merger between AT&T and Time Warner (owner of CNN). Is this a viable merger and will it influence the press/media and democracy in years to come?

Prescott Valley, AZ Correspondent- If the AT&T and Time Warner merger does materialize, it would represent a large concentration of power between a distributor (AT&T) and a maker/ creator of content (Time Warner). The merger is not one in which two warring companies want to merge to reduce competition as AT&T has already tried that  when it attempted to buy T-Mobile in 2011, and was stopped by the federal government. 

Instead, the proposed merger is one that involves interrelated businesses that are not presently competing against one another, but the problem with this kind of merger is that it can still present competitive problems, particularly if the distributor (AT&T) provides special treatment to its content provider (Time Warner), which could be detrimental to smaller competitors.

The key to such a merger is whether or not there will be strong conditions to ensure that competition and net neutrality (internet fairly distributed and delivered, like a utility) remain intact, but with net neutrality now being in question with the incoming Trump administration and new FCC advisers, net neutrality and other regulatory policies could be in danger of rollback.

The Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee has voiced skepticism over the merger and feels that AT&T could be tempted to raise prices on Time Warner’s content. They further voiced concern over the possibility of harassment like tactics to dictate rates and terms to other networks.  Further uneasiness was voiced over the concentration of power in one conglomerate, which would likely result in not only higher prices and limited programming options but could also indicate problems with free press and media coverage.  The committee is not convinced that the harm to competitors is greater than the good.

With the current high rate of competition in media markets, proponents of the merger claim that price hikes would not be supported, but there would be nothing to stop AT&T from charging competitors more for Time Warner content, yet AT&T executives emphatically state that goal of the merger is to get content to as many people as possible at the lowest prices, not to monopolize the market and become too powerful.  If a single company is allowed to control major input from online video to content production and transmission, competition is going to be stifled in this new type of media market, so questions still remain.

The issue of the merger’s influence on the press/media and democracy is one that Time Warner (owner of CNN) and AT&T will have to deal with concerning their strong association and ties with the Clinton campaign (though she was not in support of the merger).  Controlling and swaying news in a leftist direction and stifling real news would be damaging to the free press and those that use the services for unbiased news reports. Executives with AT&T insist that they will not tamper with CNN’s news and editorial decisions should the merger materialize.

Should the multi-billion dollar merger go through, it would not only represent a major concentration of power between a distributer and maker of content, but it would be damaging to smaller web outlets and their content.  Though the Judiciary Committee is in agreement with the negatives of the deal, it is probable that Trump’s Justice Department will likely have the last say on the deal, and the FCC will most probably subject the merger to rigid scrutiny based on whether the deal is in the best interest of the public.

It is the government’s job to prevent large concentrations of economic powers, so the Trump administration could dissuade the major players from merging, but the overall best solution seems to be for the media companies/news outlets, advertisers and others to keep the distribution and content aspects separate, so everyone involved from creators to consumers can see eye to eye with a fair and balanced outcome concerning media giants and access to their services.

 

Owatonna, MN Correspondent- The line between telecommunications and media has gradually gotten blurrier ever since the breakup of Ma Bell (the old AT&T monopoly) began back in the 1980s. With the advent of cable television, fiber optics, wireless transmission, cell phones that are essentially microcomputers, and video-calling services such as Skype, media transmission and telephone calls have become virtually indistinguishable. For this reason, the merger between AT&T and Time Warner (TW) is viable because the two companies have much more in common than they have differences.

Mergers can be dangerous when competition is eliminated, which allows businesses to consolidate into mega entities that control too much of the media content as well as the means to distribute that content. This merger smacks of just that. Media pundits have long bemoaned the oversized influence of Big Media and its effect on news, journalism, and democracy. Combining two large media giants into a behemoth will increase the handwringing.

It’s likely that this merger will influence the press and media. Time Warner will gain access to one of the nation’s largest telecoms, which will facilitate TW’s distribution of its programming—and therefore its point of view—to many more households than before. However, this will only become negative if TW forsakes responsible reporting and journalism for advertising dollars and decides to participate in opinion shaping or producing so-called fake news to generate more profits at the expense of the truth and balanced points of view.

The only possible good that may come of this and other media mergers (other than increased profits to shareholders) is that new independent news sources spring up throughout cyberspace to counteract Big Media and provide that much-needed balance.

 

Gastonia, NC Correspondent- Considering that CNN lost the last of its standing as a viable media outlet about 5 years ago, I’m not sure that the proposed merger will have any effect on media or our democracy as a whole.  CNN used to be the most trusted source for unbiased news, but these days the only time it occupies my screen is when my own personal guru, Anthony Bourdain, is off eating interesting food in interesting places.  What does concern me is the ever-increasing concentration of power in our media services.  Soon, they’ll be able to charge whatever they want for their services, and while alternatives like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime will keep them nominally in check, those of us who like to channel-surf and pick from hundreds of available complete wastes of time and intellect will be left digging deeper into our wallets.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s