Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Rising Net traffic crowds avenues of info

Citizen Staff Writer

Publishing has become a free-for-all, thanks to the Internet. And in a democratic society, that’s good.

Thus, the notion of media consolidation in the hands of a powerful few – Tucson Citizen owner Gannett Co. Inc., Rupert Murdoch’s seemingly ever-expanding News Corp. or any of the other big conglomerates – is less of a threat than it may have been in times past.

Not that consolidation isn’t a threat at all; it is, but to a much lesser extent than before.

So the hue and cry over the news media being driven by the demands of the free market – rather than those of the First Amendment and the people’s right to know – should be taken with some leavening.

It used to be said that anyone could practice freedom of the press, as long as he had millions to buy and run a press.

Now, the Internet is the press to a great extent. It greatly levels the playing field for those wanting to get into publishing and spreading information on the cheap.

Yet even there, the free flow of information and equal access face threats.

The New York Times pointed it out May 19 in an editorial headlined “Democracy and the Web.” It discussed legislation working its way through the U.S. House of Representatives to ensure “Net neutrality.”

That is, equal access from all and to all for information on the World Wide Web.

The issue, as the Times pointed out in its editorial advocating for Net neutrality, is that some Internet service providers are looking at ways to create what in essence would be fast lanes and slow lanes for information delivery online.

ISPs could make more money by charging a premium to the owners of Web sites that want their content delivered faster.

“Web sites relegated to Internet ‘slow lanes’ would have trouble competing,” the Times said in its editorial.

That would not be good for them or for anyone in society. Equal access is necessary.

On the other hand, cross ownership of media outlets is less of a concern overall than what many make it out to be.

Cross ownership means one company could own both a newspaper and a broadcast outlet in the same market. That now is prohibited, with some grandfathered-in exceptions.

In Tucson, for example, Gannett, as the Citizen’s parent company, cannot own television or radio stations.

It’s an archaic rule, dating to an era when newspapers were, without challenge, the dominant news and information outlets in their markets.

While newspapers still dominate – the Citizen, business partner the Arizona Daily Star, business agent Tucson Newspapers and our Web sites reach 63.7 percent of adults in the market, way more than any other medium – they are hardly alone in ability to reach significant sectors of the market.

Radio station consolidation and widespread Internet access are challenging that reach.

An exception is that consolidation can minimize the voices of some groups – racial and ethnic minorities, fringe political and social groups and others with the same First Amendment rights that we enjoy.

As members of a democratic society fueled by information, it behooves all of us to understand these issues.

They can affect and do have an effect on First Amendment rights, for every one of us.

Call Michael A. Chihak at 573-4646 or e-mail mchihak@tucsoncitizen.com.

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