consumer sovereignty in media markets

Consumer sovereignty is not given from the start. Consumers cannot but follow the decision made by free market (by the invisible hand). Of course, there is individual freedom not to obey the freely decided matters, but individual is not free from the overall societal flow. Though it is not the example in media market, let me tell you the recent Korean situation concerning with (re)importation of US beef. The previous government stopped US beef import due to the violation of import conditions and the increased danger of BSE, aka., mad cow disease. The newly elected president – who is a follower of free market and previous CEO in a Korean big construction company – removed the bar through a rough-and-ready negotiation. Thus import of wider parts of beef from older aged cow, from which the danger of BSE would be increased, has been enabled by this negotiation, since the free market policy tends to be like that –the minimum regulation. Most of the Korean people opposed to the result of the negotiation, since it is unfair to be exposed to more dangerous situation and people’s refusal of the decision is consumer’s sovereignty. The president said that he couldn’t understand why people opposed to import of cheap “and” high-quality beef, and if they didn’t want to eat it then they might not buy it. But that is irresponsible and unreasonable, for imported beef is not what can be avoided if they don’t want. It would be used and consumed in various ways – Hamburger, Sausage, Pizza, Ramen, soup, and even cosmetic products – consumers have no perfect means to avoid it. In a word, consumer sovereignty is something that can be protected at least only through the struggle.

Let’s look at the opinion of advocate of media free market: “broadcast news is entertainment” (Owen). I don’t want to disparage the truthfulness of that opinion, but want to see it as a fundamental view point of free market supporter. As always, television producers and network providers want to entertain consumers. That’s true. But, for that reason, they try to give us what we want – only if we have what we really want. Do we have what we really want? How do we know what we really want is? What we really want is decided in market place. What media producers and providers are doing is to decide what we can want and what they will let us desire. Of course, reality shows like American Idol and Survivor are the most sensitive in whether consumers (as viewers) are finding their pleasure from the shows, because without viewers’ pleasure they are nothing. But that does not mean that viewers’ pleasure is the (only) decisive factor in the success of the shows. Rather, since viewers’ pleasure is very everything of the shows, they risk their lives to get viewers’ pleasure. Thus, consumers’ pleasure and desire is nothing but what is required by market.

Free infinite competition is not always self-regulable or self-sustainable – look at the current financial crisis and market failure. I don’t think media also have self-sustainable principle which can allow infinite competition, whatever that media channel is. Maybe that principle of competition is not for the audiences’ needs but for the survival of their system and accumulation of capital through M&A. Once there is a chance to provide audiences with what they want, it might be, as I mentioned above, because they need to do so at that time. 

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