Let's consider the following hypothetical situation:
The Federal Trade Commission decides to conduct a public symposium on ownership concentration in a major industry - take supermarkets as an example.
After the regulatory agency's staff has made initial preparations, drawing up proposed agenda items, etc., the major supemarket chains object that the FTC is lining up only its critics in a one-sided presentation and tell the agency that food businesses will not participate.
FTC Chairman Michael Pertschuk responds, stating that his agency wants no part of a biased symposium and noting that the FTC has been suggested speakers from the supermarket chains. He urges them to take part. The food store owners again decline.
If this series of events had taken place, it is safe to say that there would have been considerable comment by the media critical of of the supermarket chains' unwillingness to participate in a public inquiry.
Although the supermarket situation is fiction (the FTC has studied food industry concentration, at great length), there is another major American industry that is declining to take part in a two-day symposium here next week.
America's major newspaper publishers have told Pertschuk that they question whether the FTC is the appropriate forum to discuss media ownership concentration, whether a draft agenda represents a "fair, balanced and reasoned approach" and whether the FTC subsequently would claim it has authority to act on matters identified in the agenda.
"We continue to believe that broad social and constitutional issues affecting the free press of this country are more properly and effectively considered by the U.S. Congress and the courts," said American Newspaper Publishers Association Executive Vice President Jerry W. Friedheim in an Oct. 23 letter to Pertschuk.
At issue is "Media Symposium-A workshop on Media Concentration," to be held by the FTC's Bureau of Competition on Dec. 14-15 at the Washington Hilton. According to FTC staff attorney Heather Kirkwood, the workshop was organized at the suggestion of various bureau staff members and some commissioners of the agency, following publication in 1977 of a 12-part series on the newspaper industry in The Washington Post, similar articles in such magazines as Fortune and Business Week, and public petitions complaining about concentration in book publishing.
According to a schedule now being distributed by the FTC, major topics for speeches and panel discussions include: "Conglomeration, concentration and the flow of information," "Policy implications of the First Amendment," and "An economist's description of the media industry."
"The role of competition inthe electronic media," "Local cross-ownership of media properties," "The newspaper industry: one-chain towns and newspaper chains," "Concentration and conglomeration in book publishing" and Approprateness of antitrust or other action."
Participants will include economists, sociologists, political scientists, lawyers, media access groups and industry representatives-at least for the broadcasters and book publishers, whose trade associations agreed to cooperate with the FTC in helping shape the agenda and select speakers.
David Blank, vice president and chief economist for CBS Inc., National Cable Television Association president Robert Schmidt; National Association of Broadcasters vice president and research director John Dimling Jr; Farrar, Straus & Giroux president Roger Straus; Association of American (Book) Publishers president Townsend Hoopes; poet James Dickey and Authors Guild president John Brooks are among the speakers and panelists.
Other will include Rep. Morris Udall (D-Ariz), a critic of ownership concentration; former White House Press Secretary George Reedy; Deputy U.S. Solicitor General Stephen Barnett; former Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Donald Baker and lawyers Lee Loevinger and Marcus Cohn.
The newspaper industry, in terms of employment the third largest of American manufacturers, will be represented by two persons speaking only for themselves-R. George Kuser Jr., president of American Newspapers Inc., and former president of the Inland Daily Press Association, and a last-minute addition, Nashville Tennessean publisher John Seigenthaler.
The reason for the absence of newspaper publisher's association board action on Oct. 5, when the board in a formal motion expressed its "concern with and disapproval of the present concept of the symposium."
Exchanges of letters followed between FTC chairman Pertschuk and the ANPA's Friedheim, with the agency head stating that the symposium "can contribute to a better understanding of competition in the media which can ultimately benefit not only the public but the media themselves.
To which Friedheim responded: "Although the press clearly is not immune from general laws regulating business, it is not identical to any other business; and any governmental inquiry which could affect the constitutionally protected functions must be approached most carefully and sensitively." The ANPA will monitor the symposium but not take part, Friedheim said in his most recent letter, dated Nov. 17.
According to the FTC's Kirkwood, she tried to seek participation of individual newspaper company officials after the ANPA's rejection. Most said crowded schedules prevented their participation next week.