The First Amendment to the Constitution protecting the right to engage in speech is fundamental to a free country. The past few years have seen multiple attempts by the Democratic Party and their far-left supporters to create a new definition of this right – the freedom from speech that one doesn’t like.
While this trend toward the left trying to redefine rights as being freedom from activity they don’t like is not new, it has taken hold as the dominant philosophy of the Democratic Party in the past few years. It was just in September of 2014, that Senate Democrats voted to repeal the First Amendment and replace it with language that would end protections for political speech.
Now, violent left-wing protesters shut down speeches of those they don’t agree with on college campuses and spent last year attacking Donald Trump supporters with the acquiescence of local officials and the police they direct in places like Chicago and San Jose, California.
It is this new, intolerant attitude toward speech that is leading to a re-examination of the wisdom of allowing the consolidation of media outlets that control both the pipelines for distributing and the content they distribute.
Into this mix, AT&T and Time Warner attempted to merge and candidate Donald Trump warned against the creation of this corporate behemoth saying in October of 2016, “As an example of the power structure I’m fighting, AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus CNN, a deal we will not approve in my administration because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.”
After exhaustive review and more than a year later, the Justice Department announced that they would be filing a lawsuit against the merger writing, “As AT&T itself has expressly acknowledged, distributors with control over popular programming “have the incentive and ability to use . . . that control as a weapon to hinder competition.” And, as DirecTV itself has explained, such vertically integrated programmers “can much more credibly threaten to withhold programming from rival [distributors]” and can “use such threats to demand higher prices and more favorable terms.” This merger would create just such a vertically integrated programmer and cause precisely such harms to competition.”
The legal challenge to the merger creates a new marker for big media that the Justice Department will not be a rubber stamp. But most importantly, it should force other potential mega-media mergers like the just announced Disney and 21st Century Fox acquisitions to worry about the stifling of competition inherent in behemoth companies and the new DOJ sensitivity toward media monopolies.
Disney Corporation, for instance, has been at the forefront of legally attacking VidAngel, a small Utah company, that allows movie purchasers to automatically fast forward past offensive materials. VidAngel encourages its customers to purchase Disney or other movie products and then use the filtering invention to protect their family from content that parents believe is inappropriate without having to miss the entire movie. In the wake of the new DOJ scrutiny of mega-media mergers, it is not a good look for Disney to be seeking to legally use its money and power to squash a small competitor.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ DOJ decision to challenge giant media companies seeking to harm competition may turn out to be one of the most consequential decisions of the Trump Administration. And what’s more, it may be the turning point in assuring that the First Amendment does not get washed away in media merger mania.