Stronger antitrust enforcement to limit big mergers is a signature of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign, which visits Seattle on Sunday.
Warren should expand this pledge to address the harm caused by media consolidation and preserve the free press. Flying between Seattle and Boston, Warren will cross growing news deserts with little local news coverage. After years of consolidation and downsizing, more than 2,000 U.S. counties have no daily newspaper and 171 have no newspaper at all.
Democracy suffers when coverage fades. Government is less accountable, voter participation falls and fewer candidates seek office.
One suggestion, from the University of Chicago’s Stigler Center, is that antitrust and merger reviews should take a broader look at harm caused by media mergers. In addition to protecting consumers from direct harm, such as higher prices, regulators should consider effects on “citizen welfare, which recognizes the centrality of the media, and increasingly digital media, to the democratic process.”
Having few owners control much of the press makes it more vulnerable to government and commercial pressures, the Stigler report notes. Consolidation also reduces the diversity and quality of coverage, particularly local news.
Ensuring the survival of the free press should be a priority for Warren and every presidential candidate.