Juan Gonzalez, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, equated growing media consolidation with moving toward a "de facto apartheid media system."
It was an analogy sure to resonate with his audience of minority journalists gathered for a conference in Washington Thursday.
He said that government policy should be addressing diversity of ownership, not just counting the number of media outlets, because that diversity is "critical to insuring debate."
Panelist Mark Lloyd agreed, adding that ownership is a key political issue. "When we vote for president, we will be voting for media rules," he said.
Lloyd, a visiting MIT professor and former broadcaster, reminded the audience that the three commissioners who voted to roll back regulation were Republicans, while the two who fought it, including fellow panelist Michael Copps whom he praised, were Democrats.
Defending consolidation was Tom Leech, VP, development, for Tribune, who argued that as an admitted consolidator, his company had started up news operations or expanded them on the stations it had bought. He also said that newspapers needed video for their websites to remain competitive with new media. Teaming with TV in a market helps that effort, he said.
Leech said that the Philadelphia appeals court that sent back the FCC's ownership rules for modification found that the blanket crossownership limits are no longer in the public interest. Tribune wants a level playing field, he said. "Our fear is that current rules do not allow newspapers to compete because they cannot consolidate."
He contrasted that with cable company Comcast, which under current FCC rules could have bought Disney, controlled every cable home in Chicago and the ABC TV station, though he conceded there might have been some antitrust issues with Justice.