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Sen. Al Franken Challenges Elena Kagan On Proposed NBC/Comcast Merger

While the media has spent most of Elena Kagan‘s Supreme Court hearings fishing for the most entertaining tidbits (not an easy feat), parts of the substantive discussion that weren’t about Twilight were fascinating, too. Today, Minnesota Senator Al Franken posed to Kagan challenging questions about the state of the media, and gauged her comfort level with major media mergers like the proposed one between Comcast and NBC Universal.

Franken did not make his opinion of the matter at all vague, explaining that, to him, “when the same company owns programming and runs the pipes that bring us programming, I think we have a problem. I’m interested in the ways the Supreme Court affects the info that you and I get when you turn on the TV or read the newspaper.” He continued his explanation, before asking Kagan’s opinion directly:

“If Comcast and NBC merge, I worry that AT&T and Verizon are going to decide that, well, they have to buy ABC, CBS to compete. And that will mean there will be less independent programming, fewer voices, and a smaller marketplace of ideas. That’s a First Amendment problem. It’s also an anti-trust problem.”

Kagan at first hesitates to answer, as the Comcast/NBC merger is still under judicial review, but “in general terms, the First Amendment does not provide defense to anti-trust laws,” and “the anti-trust laws are the anti-trust laws, and they apply to all companies.” Franken continues to pressure her on the First Amendment relevance to anti-trust laws, citing later the Net Neutrality issue and the fact that corporations control the online means of communication, but while she acknowledges “First Amendment values,” she still considers the matter to be primarily that of corporations, and “would defer to people who know a lot more about anti-trust policy than I do.”

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