As Not Seen on TV
The debate over the dangers of media monopoly got a lot less theoretical in the last week of January, when Comcast, the nation's No. 1 owner of cable television companies, rejected the Peace Action Education Fund's request to purchase airtime for ads opposing an attack on Iraq. Though the thirty-second ads featured calm restatements of mainstream concerns by a diverse group of Americans, Comcast declined to allow them to air on CNN in Washington during the week of the President's State of the Union address because, it claimed, "we must decline to run any spot that fails to substantiate certain claims or charges." (At around the same time, CNN, Fox and NBC declined to sell airtime on their national networks for an ad from the Win Without War coalition, which includes the National Council of Churches and other groups; "we do not accept international advocacy ads on regions in conflict," said CNN spokeswoman Megan Mahoney.) Though Comcast gained control of 70 percent of the cable subscriber base in the nation's top twenty media markets as a result of a 2002 FCC decision, FCC chair Michael Powell said he saw no need to investigate its actions. But members of Congress, media union leaders and public-interest organizations joined antiwar groups in charging censorship, and warning against a further loosening of ownership rules. "This is a sign of what could go wrong in the future with media conglomeration if people are saying something even vaguely controversial," said Peace Action's Scott Lynch.