The president of CBS, Inc., today defended the size and increasing concentration of companies in the communications field as a desirable counterweight to "big government" and other concentrated power sectors.
John D. Backe, in a strongly worded address, said that "size alone has hardly throttled diversity" in broadcasting and publishing, and claimed that many advocates of a break-up of the media conglomerates simply are unhappy with their independence.
Blake, speaking here to the International Radio and Television Society, said what "many so-called media critics - both in and out of government - really want is not diversity. What a lot of them really want is to remove a thorn from their sides - a strong, independent and outspoken communications industry. And they are trying to do it with economic pressure, because they know political pressure won't work.
"They know that only big communications companies with extensive resources can properly report on, and investigate, and stand up to the powers of big government, big business and big labor," Backe said.
A copy of his speech text was made available.
Citing a request by the Authors Guild to the Justice Department anti-trust divison to look into the merger trend in book publishing, he warned that, "government intervention in the name of antitrust could very well be a foot in the door to government intervention in the creative process itself. We've seen this in broadcasting, where government actions orginally designed to merely assign radio frequencies have grown into the equal-time laws, which intrude on actual journalistic decisions.
Backe is president and chief executive of CBS, Inc., which includes not only the country's largest and most profitbale television network but several publishing companies, nearly two dozen magazines, CBS Records, and a number of other leisure-industry subsidiaries.
"The standard cliche is that because a comapny has wide interests in broadcasting or publishing, individual expression is being limited by the arrogant over of a handful of medial barons in New York, or Washington, or somewhere," Backe said in his speech.
"It all adds up to what I think is a dangerous but growing feeling that the communications industry should somehow be returned to an idyllic era of small newspapers and broadcasting stations that, in reality, never existed," Backe said.
As threats. Backe cited a case now before the U.S. Supreme Court on whether newspaper-broadcasting combinations should be broken up when they occur in the same city, and a bill by Rep. Morris Udall (D-Arix.) that would change estate tax laws for privately owned local newspapers to prevent their forced sale by heirs to large chains.
"The wave of mergers in our industry has come in reaction to changing economic conditions, and is, I believe, perfectly natural," Backe said.
Decrying the "paranoia over bigness in communications," Backe said that "size is simply one of the hallmarks of our time," and has served to enhance aggressive competition, rather than diminish it.
He said the size of the corporate umbrella backing CBS News has made possible such things as "coverage of Vietnam and space shots, conventions and elections, and other major events of our times. Over the years, it has been the economic strength of the large broadcasters that has made possible the development of such things as color television, videotape and minicameras," Backe said.