Think Again

Think Again: Yasir Arafat

In 1974, Yasir Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), declared before the United Nations that he came "bearing an olive branch and a freedom-fighter's gun." Nearly 20 years later, the world still does not know if Arafat is a statesman dedicated to peaceful coexistence with Israel or a resistance leader dedicated to armed struggle. As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict enters a tenuous new phase of peace negotiations, understanding Arafat's true motives will be essential to fostering a lasting agreement.

"Arafat's Goal Is a Lasting Peace With the State of Israel"

I doubt it. Throughout the Oslo peace process, everyone involved -- Palestinians, Israelis, Americans, Egyptians, Saudis, and other Arab leaders -- shared the belief that Arafat wanted peace with Israel. It seemed logical. After all, Arafat had crossed the threshold and recognized Israel, incurring the wrath of secular and religious rejectionists. And he had authorized five limited or interim agreements with the Israelis. Although Arafat held out until the last possible minute and strived for the best deal, he eventually made the compromises necessary to reach those interim agreements.

Unfortunately, such short-term progress masked some disquieting signals about the Palestinian leader's intentions. Every agreement he made was limited and contained nothing he regarded as irrevocable. He was not, in his eyes, required to surrender any claims. Worse, notwithstanding his commitment to renounce violence, he has never relinquished the terror card. Moreover, he is always quick to exaggerate his achievements, even while maintaining an ongoing sense of grievance. During the Oslo peace process, he never prepared his public for compromise. Instead, he led the Palestinians to believe the peace process would produce everything they ever wanted -- and he implicitly suggested a return to armed struggle if negotiations fell short of those unattainable goals. Even in good times, Arafat spoke to Palestinian groups about how the struggle, the jihad, would lead them to Jerusalem. Too often his partners in the peace process dismissed this behavior as Arafat being caught up in rhetorical flourishes in front of his "party" faithful. I myself pressed him when his language went too far or provoked an angry Israeli response, but his stock answer was that he was just talking about the importance of struggling for rights through the negotiation process.

But from the start of the Oslo negotiations in 1993, Arafat focused only on what he was going to receive, not what he had to give. He found it difficult to live without a cause, a struggle, a grievance, and a conflict to define him. Arafat never faced up to what he would have to do -- even though we tried repeatedly to condition him. As a result, when he was finally put to the test with former President Bill Clinton's proposal in December 2000, Arafat failed miserably.

Is there any sign that Arafat has changed and is ready to make historic decisions for peace? I see no indication of it. Even his sudden readiness to seize the mantle of reform is the result of intense pressure from Palestinians and the international community. He is maneuvering now to avoid real reform, not to implement it. And on peace, he does not appear ready to acknowledge the opportunity that existed with Clinton's plan, nor does he seem willing to confront the myths of the Palestinian movement.

"Arafat Missed a Historic Opportunity When He Turned Down the Clinton Proposal"

Yes. It is true that Arafat did not "reject" the ideas the Clinton administration offered in December 2000. Instead, he pulled a classic Arafat: He did not say yes or no. He wanted it both ways. He wanted to keep talking as if the Clinton proposal was the opening gambit in a negotiation, but he knew otherwise. Arafat knew Clinton's plan represented the culmination of the American effort. He also knew these ideas were offered as the best judgment of what each side could live with and that the proposal would be withdrawn if not accepted.

To this day, Arafat has never honestly admitted what was offered to the Palestinians -- a deal that would have resulted in a Palestinian state, with territory in over 97 percent of the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem; with Arab East Jerusalem as the capital of that state (including the holy place of the Haram al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary); with an international presence in place of the Israeli Defense Force in the Jordan Valley; and with the unlimited right of return for Palestinian refugees to their state but not to Israel. Nonetheless, Arafat continues to hide behind the canard that he was offered Bantustans -- a reference to the geographically isolated black homelands created by the apartheid-era South African government. Yet with 97 percent of the territory in Palestinian hands, there would have been no cantons. Palestinian areas would not have been isolated or surrounded. There would have been territorial integrity and contiguity in both the West Bank and Gaza, and there would have been independent borders with Egypt and Jordan.

"The offer was never written" is a refrain uttered time and again by apologists for Chairman Arafat as a way of suggesting that no real offer existed and that therefore Arafat did not miss a historic opportunity. Nothing could be more ridiculous or misleading. President Clinton himself presented both sides with his proposal word by word. I stayed behind to be certain both sides had recorded each word accurately. Given Arafat's negotiating style, Clinton was not about to formalize the proposal, making it easier for Arafat to use the final offer as just a jumping-off point for more ceaseless bargaining in the future.

However, it is worth pondering how Palestinians would have reacted to a public presentation of Clinton's plan. Had Palestinians honestly known what Arafat was unwilling to accept, would they have supported violence against the Israelis, particularly given the suffering imposed on them? Would Arafat have remained the "only Palestinian" capable of making peace? Perhaps such domestic pressure would have convinced Arafat, the quintessential survivor, that the political costs of intransigence would be higher than the costs of making difficult concessions to Israel.

"Arab Leaders Stand Behind Arafat"

Reluctantly. I have never met an Arab leader who trusts Arafat or has anything good to say about him in private. Almost all Arab leaders have stories about how he has misled or betrayed them. Most simply wave their hands dismissively when examples of his betrayal of commitments are cited -- almost as if they are saying, "We know, we know." The Saudis, in particular, saw his alignment with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 1991 as proof of his perfidy.

But no Arab leader is prepared to challenge him. All acknowledge him as the symbol of the Palestinian movement, and no one sees an alternative to him. But no one is prepared to go out on a limb for him, either.

Many suggest that in the absence of broad Arab support, Clinton's proposal was too hard for Arafat to accept. Furthermore, some argue, since the United States failed to secure the support Arafat needed, it bears some responsibility for his inability to say yes. That argument is more myth than reality. First, if Clinton's offer was so hard to accept, why has Arafat never honestly portrayed it? Why not say he was offered 97 percent, instead of Bantustans or cantons? Why not admit he would have had Arab East Jerusalem as the capital of the state, instead of denying that?

Second, we did line up the support of five key Arab leaders for Clinton's plan. On December 23, 2000, the same day that President Clinton presented his ideas to Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, he called Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, and Jordanian King Abdullah II to convey the comprehensive proposal he had just presented to the parties. Shortly thereafter, he also transmitted the ideas to King Mohammed IV of Morocco and President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia. All these Arab leaders made clear they thought Clinton's ideas were historic, and they pledged to press Arafat to accept the plan. However, when Arafat told Arab leaders he had questions, they backed off and assumed the position they had adopted throughout the Oslo peace process. They would support whatever Chairman Arafat accepted. They were not about to put themselves in a position in which Arafat might claim that President Mubarak or Crown Prince Abdullah or King Abdullah was trying to pressure him to surrender Palestinian rights.

There is a lesson here for today: Getting Arab leaders to fulfill their responsibilities -- to be participants and not just observers -- is essential. On existential questions in which concessions on the Palestinian side are required, Arab leaders will likely restrict their pressure to private entreaties. But that is not where real leverage is to be found. Pressure in public would be pressure as Arafat defines it. Arafat's great achievement for the Palestinians has been putting them on the map, producing recognition, giving them standing on the world stage. He embodies the cause, and that is why Arab leaders find it so hard to criticize him in public. Yet he cannot afford the imagery that he and the Palestinian cause are separate. If Arab leaders would say that his being only a symbol and not a leader threatens Palestinian interests, then Arafat's very identity would be called into question. That would move him.

"The World Must Deal With Arafat Since He Is the Palestinians' Elected Leader"

Not necessarily. The United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations have adopted this position. An election in the territories in 1996 made Arafat the chairman of the Palestinian Authority. But the international community does the Palestinians no favor when it emphasizes Arafat's popular election as justification for dealing with him. It is important to remember that anger on Palestinian streets before the eruption of the Al-Aqsa Intifada was directed against Israel and also against the corruption and ineptitude of the Palestinian Authority. Now that the dust is settling after Israeli military operations and massive reconstruction is needed in the West Bank, Palestinians are demanding reform. They are demanding elections, rule of law, an independent judiciary, transparency, accountability, streamlined security services governed by standards (not by Arafat's whims), and an end to corruption.

Palestinians are not looking to oust Chairman Arafat. They simply want to limit his arbitrary use of power. Given the pressure he is under (from within, from among Arabs to stop manipulating violence and to assume responsibility, and from the international community), it is not hard to see why Arafat is trying to seize the mantle of reform. Yet he cannot be permitted to speak of reform and at the same time avoid its consequences. Otherwise, the momentum will be lost. True reform is an essential part of any political process designed to promote peace. The more serious the reform, the more the Israeli public will see that Palestinian behavior is changing -- and the more likely Israel will accept the possibility of partnership again. If Arafat is allowed to escape pressure for genuine reform, the Israeli government will be under no pressure to resume political negotiations.

One could argue that the world must deal with Arafat because he is the symbol of the Palestinian movement, because he is the only address available, and because he is the only one who can be held responsible for Palestinian behavior. That would be a more honest explanation than saying he is the popularly elected leader of the Palestinians. However, Arafat's role as a symbol is not the reason the U.S. government recognized him in the first place. The United States made the decision to deal directly with Arafat in September 1993 when, as part of the Oslo documents, he formally agreed to renounce terror, to discipline and punish any Palestinian violators of that pledge, and to settle all disputes peacefully. Suffice to say, Arafat has not abided by those commitments.

No one but the Palestinians can choose the Palestinian leader. But the rest of the world can choose not to deal with a leader who fails to fulfill obligations. Governments can tell the Palestinian public they recognize it has legitimate aspirations that must be addressed and that those aspirations can only be addressed politically, not militarily. But those aspirations will not be satisfied until Palestinians have a leadership -- whether it is Arafat, a successor, or a collective body that limits the chairman's power -- that will fulfill its responsibilities on security and declare that suicide bombers are enemies of the Palestinian cause. When a Palestinian leadership lives up to those commitments, the Palestinians and the Arab world will have an American partner determined to help ensure that Palestinian needs are met.

"Arafat Can't Control the Militants in the Palestinian Authority"

He can, but he won't. Arafat has demonstrated in the past that he can prevent violence -- most notably in the spring of 1996 when he cracked down on Hamas and also in the first year of former Prime Minister Ehud Barak's administration, when Israel, for the only time in its history, had a year in which it did not suffer a single fatality from terror.

Yet from the beginning of the peace process, Arafat made clear he prefers to co-opt, not confront, extremist groups. This approach reflects his leadership style: He never closes doors. He never forecloses options. He never knows when he might want to have a particular group, no matter what its ideology or purpose, on his side. This strategy has certainly been true of his dealings with Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In 1996, he suppressed extremists because they were threatening his power, not because they carried out four suicide bombings in Israel in nine days. Even then, the crackdown, while real, was limited. Arafat did not completely shut the door on either group.

In the past, whenever Arafat cracked down or threatened to do so, the militants backed down. But that stopped in September 2000 with the eruption of the Al-Aqsa Intifada. Those who say Arafat cannot carry out his security responsibilities because Israeli military incursions have devastated his capabilities fail to recognize that Arafat didn't act even before Israelis destroyed his infrastructure. In the 20 months leading up to May 2002, he never gave unequivocal orders to arrest, much less stop, those who were planning, organizing, recruiting, financing, or implementing terror attacks against Israelis. Whether one thinks -- as the Israelis believe recently captured documents demonstrate -- Arafat directs the violence or that he simply acquiesces to it, the unmistakable fact is that he has made no serious or sustained effort to stop the violence.

If nothing else, it is time for Arafat to use his moral authority to make clear that armed struggle only threatens the Palestinian cause -- that those who persist in the violence are not martyrs but enemies of Palestinian interests and needs. Let him make such declarations consistently, rather than repeating the pattern of the past as when he called for a cease-fire on December 16, 2001, only to call for a million martyrs to march on Jerusalem shortly thereafter. Pressing Arafat to speak out consistently does not relieve him of the need to act. Nor does it relieve the Israelis of finding a way to meet their legitimate security needs without making the Palestinians suffer. Ultimately, keeping the territories under siege is self-defeating. This approach only fosters anger and a desire to make Israelis feel comparable pain. The Israeli military has succeeded in creating a necessary respite from terrorist attacks. Now Israel should seek a political path that builds on that respite and gives Palestinians an interest in making it more enduring.

"The Time Has Come to Impose a Peace Deal on Arafat and Sharon"

Absolutely not. Nearly two years of conflict, the spiraling violence, the deepening sense of gloom, and the seeming inability of the two sides to do anything on their own give credence to the argument that now is the time to impose a solution. If an imposed solution were possible and would hold, I would be prepared to support it. But an imposed solution is an illusion.

No Israeli government (not Ariel Sharon's, not Ehud Barak's, not Benjamin Netanyahu's, not Shimon Peres's) has accepted or will accept an imposed outcome. It goes against the Israeli ethos that a partner for peace must prove its commitment by directly negotiating an agreement. Paradoxically, the very terms Israeli governments might find difficult to accept if imposed would probably be acceptable if Israelis believed they had a real partner for peace. Those who argue for an imposed solution claim no Israeli leader can make the hard decisions, such as giving up settlements, most of the West Bank and Gaza, and the Arab part of East Jerusalem. Yet Barak was prepared to do so; and before the Al-Aqsa Intifada, the Israeli public was ready to support him. In a recent trip to Israel, I found a far-reaching consensus -- encompassing the left and the right in Israel -- for acceptance of a Clinton-like solution, provided the Palestinians are truly prepared to forsake terror, violence, and the right of return to Israel.

Trying to impose a solution that the Israeli government will not accept -- and the Sharon government will surely not accept Clintonesque ideas in the current environment -- will only result in strong resistance. Even if the United States could pressure the Israelis to reluctantly accept an imposed outcome, would it endure? I doubt it.

Arafat would certainly go along with an imposed outcome. He has always preferred such an option. It would relieve him of the responsibility to make a decision. He can outwardly acquiesce, saying he has no choice. But inevitably, Palestinians will oppose at least part of an imposed outcome. Will new issues -- what we might call Palestinian "Sheba farms" -- suddenly emerge? Recall that Israel withdrew from Lebanon in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 425 and that the U.N. secretary-general certified this withdrawal. Yet Hezbollah now claims that the Sheba farms area of the Golan Heights is Lebanese and that lasting "Israeli occupation" justifies continued armed resistance, including Katyusha rocket attacks. Will there not be a Palestinian equivalent of this situation after an imposed solution? And given Arafat's poor track record, how can anyone expect he would defend the existing peace agreement against such newly discovered grievances?

If one overriding lesson from the past persists, it is that the Palestinians must make decisions and bear the responsibility of those decisions. No enduring peace can be reached until the Palestinian leadership levels with its public, resists the temptation to blame every ill on the Israelis or the outside world, assumes responsibility for controversial decisions, and stands by its decision in the face of opposition.

An imposed solution will only delay the day when all sides, but especially the Palestinians, have to assume real responsibilities. Consequently, an imposed solution would be no solution at all.

Think Again

Think Again: Global Media

Big media barons are routinely accused of dominating markets, dumbing down the news to plump up the bottom line, and forcing U.S. content on world audiences. But these companies are not as big, bad, dominant, or American as critics claim. And company size is largely irrelevant to many of the problems facing today's Fourth Estate.

"A Few Big Companies Are Taking Over the World’s Media"

No. Much of the debate on media structure is too black-and-white. A merger of Time Inc. with Warner Communications and then with America Online dominates headlines, but the incremental growth of smaller companies from the bottom does not. Breakups and divestitures do not generally receive front-page treatment, nor do the arrival and rapid growth of new players or the shrinkage of once influential players.

In the United States, today’s top 50 largest media companies account for little more of total media revenue than did the companies that made up the top 50 in 1986. CBS Inc., for example, was then the largest media company in the United States. In the 1990s, it sold off its magazines, divested its book publishing, and was not even among the 10 largest U.S. media companies by the time it agreed to be acquired by Viacom, which was a second tier player in 1986. Conversely, Bertelsmann, though a major player in Germany in 1986, was barely visible in the United States. By 1997, it was the third largest player in the United States, where it owns book publisher Random House. Companies such as Amazon.com, Books-A-Million, Comcast, and C-Net were nowhere to be found on a list of the largest media companies in 1980. Others, such as Allied Artists, Macmillan, and Playboy Enterprises, either folded or grew so slowly as to fall out of the top ranks.

Indeed, media merger activity is more like rearranging the furniture: In the past 15 years, MCA with its Universal Pictures was sold by its U.S. owners to Matsushita (Japan), who sold to Seagram's (Canada), who sold to Vivendi (France). Vivendi has already announced that it will divest some major media assets, including textbook publisher Houghton-Mifflin. Bertelsmann also has had difficulty maintaining all the parts of its global enterprise: It recently fired its top executive and is planning to shed its online bookstore. There is an ebb as well as a flow among even the largest media companies.

The notion of the rise of a handful of all-powerful transnational media giants is also vastly overstated. Some media companies own properties internationally or provide some content across borders (for example, Vivendi's Canal+ distributes movies internationally), but no large media conglomerate owns newspapers, book publishers, radio stations, cable companies, or television licenses in all the major world markets. News Corp. comes closest to being a global media enterprise in both content and distribution, but on a global scale it is still a minor presence -- that is, minor as a percentage of global media revenue, global audience, and in the number of markets it covers.

Media companies have indeed grown over the past 15 years, but this growth should be understood in context. Developed economies have grown, so expanding enterprises are often simply standing still in relative terms. Or their growth looks less weighty. For example, measured by revenue, Gannett was the largest U.S. newspaper publisher in 1986, its sales accounting for 3.4 percent of all media revenue that year. In 1997, it accounted for less than 2 percent of total media revenue. Helped by major acquisitions, Gannett's revenue had actually increased by 69 percent, but the U.S. economy had grown 86 percent. The media industry itself had grown 188 percent, making a "bigger" Gannett smaller in relative terms. Similar examples abound.

"U.S. Companies Dominate the Media"

No. Long before liberalization of ownership in television in the 1980s, critics around the world were obsessed by the reach of U.S. programming, which cultural elites often considered too mass market and too infused with American cultural values. However, in most of the world, decisions of what programming to buy traditionally lay in the hands of managers who worked for government-owned or government-controlled broadcasters. Then, as now, no nation's media companies could require a programmer to buy their offerings or force consumers to watch them. As the market becomes more competitive, with content providers such as Canal+ and the BBC marketing their products globally, it is even more important that media enterprises offer programming that people want to watch. While Viacom, Disney, and aol Time Warner are U.S. owned, many non-U.S.-owned companies dominate the roster of the largest media groups: News Corp. (Australia), Bertelsmann (Germany), Reed-Elsevier (Britain/Netherlands), Vivendi and Lagadere-Hachette (France), and Sony Corp. (Japan).

The pervasiveness of a handful of media companies looks even less relevant when one looks at media ownership across countries. The United Nations' "Human Development Report 2002" examined ownership of the five largest newspaper and broadcast enterprises in 97 countries. It found that 29 percent of the world's largest newspapers are state owned and another 57 percent are family owned. Only 8 percent are owned by employees or the public. For radio stations, 72 percent are state owned and 24 percent family owned. For television stations, 60 percent are state owned, 34 percent family owned. These data suggest there is little foreign direct investment in the media sectors of most countries.

News media can tap wire services from around the globe such as Reuters, Agence France-Presse, the Associated Press, Kyodo News, Xinhua News Agency, and Itar-Tass. TV news editors can use video feeds from sources as diverse as U.S.-based CNN to the Qatar-based Al Jazeera. The variety and ownership of tv content in general has substantially increased -- a reality media critics ignore. From two state-owned channels in many European countries and from three U.S. networks plus the Public Broadcasting Service, there are now dozens, often hundreds, of video options via terrestrial, cable, and satellite transmission, not to mention the offline variety of videocassettes and dvds and the online availability of music and movies. In addition, book and magazine publishing continues to be robust worldwide. Encouraged by relatively low start-up costs, new publishers are popping up constantly.

"Corporate Ownership Is Killing Hard-Hitting Journalism"

A bright red herring. When exactly was this golden age of hard-hitting journalism? One might call to mind brief periods: the muckrakers in the early 20th century or Watergate reporting in the 1970s. But across countries and centuries, journalism typically has not been "hard-hitting." With more news outlets and competition today, there is a greater range of journalism than was typical in the past. Further, a 2000 comparison of 186 countries by Freedom House, a nonprofit devoted to promoting democracy, suggests that press independence, including journalists' freedom from economic influence, remained high in all but two members (Mexico and Turkey) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, where global media's markets are concentrated.

Also underlying the complaint that news has been "dumbed down" is an assumption that the media ought to be providing a big dose of policy-relevant content. Japan's dominant public broadcaster, NHK, does so, yet is Japan a more vibrant democracy as a result? More to the point, with so many media outlets today, readers and viewers can get more and better news from more diverse perspectives, if that is what they want. Or they can avoid it altogether. The alternative is to limit the number of outlets and impose content requirements on those remaining.

The third problem with this notion of corporations killing journalism is that it assumes ownership matters. In the old days of media moguls it may have: William Randolph Hearst, William Loeb, and Robert McCormick were attracted to the media because they each had political agendas, which permeated their newspapers. Nearly a century before Italian media owner Silvio Berlusconi rose to the top of Italian politics, Hearst, whose newspapers dominated in the United States, was elected to the U.S. Congress and harbored presidential aspirations. But Hearst's dual roles did not affect U.S. politics or democracy in any lasting way. The jury is still out on the effect of Berlusconi's dual roles.

Corporate-owned newspapers may actually provide better products than those that are family owned: Research suggests that large, chain-owned newspapers devote more space to editorial material than papers owned by small firms. In many parts of South America, where regulation has restricted or prevented corporate ownership, family-run enterprises have often been closely identified with ideological biases or even with using political influence to benefit other businesses. Brazilian media enterprise Globo, owned by the politically involved Marinho family, encompasses a TV network, radio, cable, and magazines. Yet Globo no longer opposes recent moves to liberalize Brazilian media ownership because then it could gain access to desirable foreign investment. As Latin American media shift from family-owned, partisan media to corporations, observes Latin American media scholar Silvio Waisbord, the media become less the "public avenues for the many ambitions of their owners," and their coverage of government corruption "is more likely to be informed by marketing calculations and the professional aspirations of reporters." This trade-off may not be bad.

Global media will not necessarily introduce aggressive journalism in places where press freedom has traditionally been constricted. For instance, News Corp. was criticized for dropping BBC news programming from Star TV presumably to mollify Chinese leaders in the mid-1990s. Yet satellite broadcaster Phoenix TV (in which News Corp.'s Star TV maintains a 37.6 percent stake, alongside that of the local Chinese owners) sometimes pushes the envelope in China, as when it reported on the election of Chen Shui-bian as president in Taiwan.

"Global Media Drown Out Local Content"

Absolutely not. Most media -- like politics -- are inherently local. Global firms peddle wholly homogeneous content across markets at their peril. Thus, MTV in Brazil plays a mix of music videos and other programming determined by local producers, even though it shares a recognizable format with MTV stations elsewhere. News Corp.'s newspapers in the United Kingdom look and read differently from those in the United States. When Star TV, an Asian subsidiary of News Corp., began broadcasting satellite television into India, few tuned in to Dallas and The Bold and the Beautiful dubbed in Hindi. The network only succeeded in India once it hired an executive with experience in Indian programming to create Indian soap operas and when an Indian production house took over news and current affairs programming.

Often viewed as a negative, consolidation may have considerable social benefits. It took the deep pockets of News Corp. to create and sustain a long-awaited fourth broadcast network in the United States. And the 1990 merger in the United Kingdom of Sky Channel and BSB created a viable television competitor from two money-losing satellite services.

"The Internet Has Leveled the Playing Field"

Yes. Or more accurately, it's helping to level the terrain because it is a relatively low-cost conduit for all content providers. As the old adage goes, "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." Make no mistake: an activist with a dial-up Internet connection and 10 megabytes of Web server space cannot easily challenge Disney for audiences. But an individual or a small group can reach the whole world and, with a little work and less money, can actually find an audience. Worldwide, an estimated 581 million people were online by 2002, more than one third of whom lived outside North America and Europe. Yet the Internet is in its infancy. The number of users is still growing and will continue to expand to the literate population as access costs decrease.

Once online, Internet users have access to thousands of information providers. Some are the same old players -- Disney with its stable of cartoon icons, Infinity with its familiar music and talk-radio broadcasting, and old government-run stations still operating in much of the world. But these coexist with newer, Internet-only options such as those found at Realguide.com, which links to 2,500 real-time audio streams from around the world, or NetRadio, which outdraws many traditional stations. These Internet-only "broadcasters" have not had to invest in government-sanctioned licenses and generally have no limits on their speech.

In countries where governments strictly control print and broadcast media, governments also can try to restrict Internet access, as China does. But some may choose not to do so: In Malaysia, the government pledged not to censor the Internet to promote its version of Silicon Valley to foreign investors. As a consequence, Malaysian cyberspace media are free of the restrictions their print and broadcast brethren face.

"Proliferating Media Outlets Balkanize Public Opinion"

No. The flip side of concerns that media concentration has limited available information is the concern that technology has made it possible to access so many voices that people in democratic societies can and will seek only information that supports their prejudices. A fragmented public, tuning in only to select cable channels or specific Web sites, could thus wall itself off from healthy public debate.

Recent U.S. studies show that as users gain experience with the Internet, they use it not to replace other sources of information but for more practical applications. They perform work-related tasks, make purchases and other financial transactions, write e-mail messages, and seek information that is important to their everyday lives.

Although news is low on the list of its uses, the Internet functions in much the same way as older news media: offering opportunities for both those who directly seek news sites and those who chance upon news links serendipitously. The Pew Internet and American Life Project reports that 42 percent of those who read news on the Web typically find news while they are doing other things online. This picture is not consistent with the notion that Web audiences routinely tune out information with which they disagree.

"Media Coverage Drives Foreign Policy"

Probably not often. Analyzing media coverage is often a chicken-and-egg dilemma: What stimulated the media to cover an event or issue? And if public policy responds to an event the news media cover, does that mean the media (or those who run the media) set the agenda?

The idea that media coverage of international crises can spark a response from politicians is termed the "CNN effect." The classic case is the coverage of starving children in Somalia in the early 1990s, which was followed by U.S. military involvement in humanitarian relief efforts. But even in the case of Somalia, some administration officials actually used the media to get the attention of other officials, and the majority of the coverage in Somalia followed rather than preceded official action.

In many places, governments are even more likely to be driving media coverage rather than the other way around, although it may suit governments to appear as if they have bowed to public opinion. The Chinese government delayed release of the crew of the U.S. EP-3 spy plane that made an emergency landing on Hainan Island in 2001, claiming that an embittered Chinese public demanded it. Angry Web comments did precede and were then reflected in media coverage of the incident. But at the same time, the government had been fanning the flames, cultivating nationalistic sentiment through the selection and treatment of stories in the news. At other times, the Chinese government both censors Web comments and withholds information from the media when it needs to preserve its foreign policy options.

"Stricter Regulation of Media Is in the Public Interest"

Just the opposite. Beware when someone claims to be speaking for the "public interest." In most cases, those who invoke the term really mean "interested publics." For example, advertisers' sense of which policies on media ownership are in their interest may differ from that of regular newspaper readers or that of satellite TV subscribers.

Fostering competition has long been a central tenet of U.S. media regulation. What if preventing two newspapers from merging results in both having to trim news budgets or pages, neither having the resources to engage in investigative reporting, or worse yet, one closing shop? Media concentration may be in the public interest if it provides a publisher with greater profit margins and the wherewithal to spend some of that on editorial content, and research in fact shows this is the case.

Licensing acts as an entry barrier to new players, and antitrust laws often lag behind reality. In the market for video program distribution, for instance, terrestrial broadcast licensees compete with cable operators and networks, who in turn compete with satellite providers. Regulation and policy limits will always be necessary, but having different regulatory frameworks for each media segment makes less sense today.

Governments that give can also take. Japanese law makes public broadcaster nhk one of the world's most autonomous public broadcasters, yet the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) strongly influences the agencies that control media licenses and that select nhk's governing board. Not coincidentally, NHK provides neutral, policy-relevant news but avoids controversial topics and investigative reporting. Where Japanese commercial television has tried to fill this gap, LDP politicians have reacted: in one case, asking an advertiser to withdraw sponsorship and in another, seeking the withdrawal of a broadcasting license.

Paradoxically, relaxing broadcast regulation may expand competition. When News Corp. put together a fourth network in the United States in 1986, the timing was not random. It followed two regulatory decisions: the Federal Communications Commission raised the limit on local licenses that a single firm could own from seven to twelve and waived a rule that kept TV networks from owning their programming. The first change allowed News Corp. to assemble a core of stations in larger markets that gave it a viable base audience, and the second sanctioned News Corp.'s purchase of 20th Century Fox, with its television production studio. Fox was thus able to launch the first successful alternative to the Big Three in 30 years. Its success also paved the way for three other large media players to initiate networks.