Federal Trade Commission Chairman Michael Pertschuck said yesterday his agency "cannot in good conscience ignore the apparent trend or pace of developing concentration" of ownership in America's mass communications industry.
Speaking to the opening session of a two-day FTC symposium on media ownership, Pertschuk declared that "speech is an illusory right without a voice box" and vowed to begin a process of information gathering to determine the impact of the trend toward consolidation on both performance and independence of various media.
In a luncheon address to the same meeting, Rep. Morris Udall (D-Ariz.) lauded Pertschuk's agency for tackling the controversial subject and considering solutions to confront "the emergence of media giants with such a potential for economics abuse and without redeeming social benefit."
Noting that the American Newspaper Publishers Association condemned the FTC symposium and refused to participate, Udall said, the newspapes "wouldn't be noticeably absent if they didn't recognize that same of these solutions are going to be uncomfortable."
Udall also vowed to reintroduce legislation next year, with more than 70 co-sponsors, to change the tax laws in such a way as to encourage independent, family-owned newspapers to turn down takeoveer bids by neewspaper chains.
He also condemned bitterly as "dismal and deeply dissappointing" the general thrust of antitrust activities under the Carter administration to date. Udall said the Justice Departmebt if so overwhelmed by litigating giant cases against International Business Machines Corp. and American Telephone & Telegraph Co. that will take decades to resolve, "that it just cannot meet the demands of antitrust action needed to stem the avalanche toward economic concentration in this country."
Separately, Rep. Bob Eckhardt (D-Tex.) emphasized his view that growing concern about inflation will bring even more attention to government imposed remedies to foster competition-in the newspaper industry, among others.
Echkhardt told a gathering of freecirculation newspaper owners, who were not permitted by the FTC to take part in the media symposium, that any attempted regulation of newspapers "raises First Amendment questions, but the rules of the free market business world must by enforced."
Acquisitions of independent newspapers by large chains "has continously expanded (monopoly) power structure and eroded competition ... the Justice Department and the FTC must concentrate some of their efforts in maintaining competition in advertising oriented publications," he warned.
Although newspapers have become a focus of the FTC symposium because virtually all publishers turned down agency appeals to participate, the program deals broadly with radio, television and book publishing, as well.
According to Wall Street analyst John Morton, in the Washington office of John Muir & Co., statistics compiled last spring show that 167 firms that own two or more daily newspapes now own 1,082 dailies-or 61.4 percent of the nationh's 1,759 dailies. These companies account for 72 percent of daily circulation and some 80 percent of Sunday circulation.
The dominance of the newspaper industry by fewer and larger companies will continue, most speakers said yesterday. And many of the same corporations also are engaged in magazine publications, radio and television broadcasting, book publishing and cable television.
Although many speakers joined Udall eysterday in raising alarms about these trends, several persons pointed to others factors.
Stanford University economist James Rosse said publishers in one newspaper towns cannot be termed true monopolies because of competition from other media and that "on average, newspapers do not earn monopoly profits."
Washington lawyer Marcus Cohn emphasized recent Federal Communicsations Commission decisions aimed at broadening broadcast ownership and diversity, while former White House Press Secretary George Reedy, in perhaps the most lively discussion of the day, said the symposium wasn't paying attention to the real issues.
"We may be thinking about an institution (the press) that is no longer what we think it is ... one that may be something of a museum piece," said Reeedy, now a journalism professor at Marquette University.
Reedy said he doesnht like the concentration of press ownership, but that it will continue and that newspapers increasingly will become "characterless." Many dailies are dominated by advertising, are dull and have "irrelevancy" to the daily lives lives of many citizens, he argued.
Rather than worrying about the press "as the funeral passes by," attention should be devoted to other increasingly diverse sources of information-such as newsletters, company publications, college lectures and word-of-mouth, Reedy stated.
He said concepts that press diversity can be solved by divestiture or that all institutions are not headed for greater centralized control are "very romantic ... We should not try to reverse something I regret very deeply but examine how we continue to be a free people with a healthy, vigorous dialogue not now in the daily press." CAPTION: Picture, REP. MORRIS UDALL . . . "dismal" antitrust record