The planned United States Department of Justice block of a planned takeover of Time Warner by AT&T seems as if it is a strategic move to create propaganda for the President Donald J. Trump in the White House. The DOJ said it won’t approve the deal unless Time Warner sells off its Turner Broadcasting Network channels, which includes CNN, a cable news channel Trump has accused of being “fake news”. Because Trump has said their coverage of him is dishonest, many believe this DOJ block is attempt at interfering with the first amendment.
According to National Public Radio (NPR) reports, officials from the government who spoke on the condition of anonymity confirmed that the DOJ will in fact attempt to block the sale on grounds of anti-trust, but few experts can draw a link with this vertical integration. Most, in fact, believe the Trump White House is just trying to silence the news organization, CNN, for reporting he does not like or agree with.
However, this blockade by the DOJ is a direct contradiction to its own office’s previous statements about the Time Warner AT&T deal. What is more troubling, Republicans and the White House who favor more conservative news outlets have worked to get softer FCC rules to apply to approve other large acquisitions planned by Sinclair Broadcasting Group. Those stations offer commentary and coverage more favorable to Trump, according to reports. Also troubling is that the difference between the two types of deals are stark. The Time Warner AT&T deal is vertical in its integration, meaning that the companies and brands acquired are in the related fields but not direct competitors. However, the Sinclair and other similar deals should face more scrutiny because they are horizontal integrations, meaning that competing stations will be swallowed up in those deals for Sinclair. However, this new DOJ revelation seems quite contrary to the normal state of anti-trust law affairs.
This has the potential for harm to consumers, as propaganda is a form of censored and controlled or manipulated communication contrary to the rights guaranteed in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. That means consumers have limited access to information and limited choice as a result. Craig Aaron is the president and CEO of Free Press, a consumer advocacy group told NPR that there could be a legitimate government purpose and anti-trust case, but the legal reasoning would not stand if it were based simply on whether the president is annoyed by CNN.
CNN Money painted the picture of a volatile spat between the DOJ and Time Warner, who is CNN’s corporate parent. They reported that the two sides are “arguing publicly over what the dispute is even about.” On CNBC, a former FCC Chair said the court would likely not allow the DOJ to make such conditions, particularly since most vertical integrations such as these are routinely approved with little fuss from the government for anti-trust reasons.