Sen. Byron Dorgan’s decision to retire from the Senate stunned many in Washington. Dorgan has been a leading opponent of media consolidation and US trade policy. We speak with the Center for Digital Democracy’s Jeff Chester about Dorgan’s retirement, as well as what the future holds for the digital media landscape with Comcast’s deal to acquire a controlling interest in NBC Universal under review, and the dispute resolved between Time Warner Cable and News Corp.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to another guest in Washington, particularly on Byron Dorgan. Juan?
JUAN GONZALEZ: We’re joined by Washington—by Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.
Jeff, talk about Byron Dorgan’s role as an opponent of media consolidation and a supporter of net neutrality.
JEFF CHESTER: Well, Senator Dorgan’s departure is going to be missed. He has really been consistently, over the last dozen years, the leading Senate critic of media consolidation, promoting policies for the FCC that would rein in the media giants and try to restore some accountability that the public should have over the cable and broadcasting and online giants. He has been a voice of conscience. He has been an effective legislator. He led the effort to overturn in the Senate the rules that Bush FCC chairman Michael Powell pushed through that would have deregulated almost everything in the US electronic media system. So we are going to need someone to fill his very large and important shoes, especially at this critical moment with the US media system.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Jeff, specifically with the Obama administration, the issue of net neutrality is increasingly a big topic at the FCC. What’s your sense how the administration has begun dealing with the issue of net neutrality?
JEFF CHESTER: Well, this is a very critical moment for the future of US and, of course, global digital communications. I mean, the reason you’re seeing Comcast buying NBC, this fight between Time Warner and Fox, the battle over network neutrality, is that our media system is in this fundamental transition, how we consume media and how we distribute media. And the big media giants want to have as much control over the new system as they’ve been able to do over the old system of broadcasting and cable. I think the FCC under the Obama administration is on a course to enshrine rules around network neutrality, but whether or not they will truly be effective, given these new mergers that are emerging and other powerful interests shaping the future of media, remains to be seen.
I think the Comcast-NBC potential merger is a real test case for the Obama administration, Juan, and I hope you don’t mind me moving to that beyond network neutrality, because we’re going to see whether or not the Obama administration is willing to take a proactive media democracy stand on the future of media, because if you allow that merger to occur, Comcast taking over one of the largest broadcasting and cable networks, and if you don’t have some limits on their power, then even rules on network neutrality won’t be able to dent the very powerful control that a very tiny handful of big companies are able to leverage throughout broadcast, cable, and potentially online.