Josh Stearns Talks Independent Voices in a Consolidating World

March 28, 2011 in Blog, Interview

Josh Stearns

Josh Stearns

An interview with Free Press’s Josh Stearns by JA’s Tram Whitehurst

The Federal Communications Commission in January approved the merger of Comcast, the nation’s largest cable and Internet provider, with NBC-Universal. Stearns argues that the merger will transform American media, consolidating more control over more platforms in the hands of fewer and fewer corporations.

There are three important considerations for news producers and consumers in the deal, Stearns said.

First, Comcast’s agreement to help form news partnerships at the local level is not likely to take shape, he said. In a December 2010 letter to the FCC chairman, Comcast agreed to support partnerships in five cities between local nonprofit news sites and television stations for up to three years. Comcast specifically highlighted the partnership between Voice of San Diego and KNSD, San Diego’s NBC station, as an example.

“This was a last ditch attempt to win approval from regulators,” Stearns said. “It was primarily a symbolic gesture.”

Stearns said Comcast made no promises it would use the content created by the partnerships, and that there are no real assurances that the partnerships will even emerge. He also thinks it’s naive for Comcast to assert that it will create these partnerships within the next year.

“Building collaborative work takes time,” Stearns said.

Stearns also thinks the merger will have a negative impact on independent producers.

The merger will squeeze out already struggling independent, diverse voices,” Stearns said. “We’ve shown over and over that media consolidation decreases diversity in the media, hurts jobs and consumers and leads to more junk news, sensationalism and celebrity gossip — rather than real news and debate we need in our communities.”

Finally, Stearns said the merger relates to net neutrality and the future of the Internet. He said the FCC has little power to enforce net neutrality, calling last year’s regulations “toothless.”

Who controls the Internet is of vital importance,” Stearns said. “Comcast now has a huge reason to promote NBC content.”

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