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Questions raised over DOJ’s green light for Liberty Media-iHeartMedia move

US consumer rights advocacy group and think tank, Public Citizen, has hit out at the Department of Justice’s (DOJ’s) decision to allow Liberty Media to increase its stake in mass media company iHeartMedia stating that it could grant Liberty power in the music industry “like no one has ever seen before”.

Earlier this month, the DOJ said Liberty could potentially raise its stake in iHeartMedia, which has the largest network of broadcast radio stations in the US, from its current 5% up to 50%. Liberty already controls satellite radio provider SiriusXM and streaming radio platform Pandora, while its 33% stake in Live Nation, which owns Ticketmaster, has raised wider implications over its power in the US entertainment sector.

Public Citizen competition policy advocate Alex Harman told the Newsweek website that the potential for Liberty to secure further control over iHeartMedia impacts on the public as it has the potential to reduce local programming, end consumer choice and make it more difficult for artists to be played.

Harman said: “So if you want to get on any of these platforms as an artist, you are wholly dependent on Liberty deciding to allow that and whatever terms they’re going to lay out, which has already been an issue with iHeart and artists.

“Now, you’re multiplying that by XM and Pandora. Not to mention, they also own—it’s a related business – Live Nation. The ability to control the actual venues they perform in.

“The issue with power isn’t what you do with it. It’s what you can do with it, and that’s why we want to limit power in the first place. The music industry has always been this conflict between the interest of the corporate and the interest of the artist. That battle is solidly over with this merger. There’s no way to win.”

Earlier this month, Live Nation was accused of profiteering from the COVID-19 pandemic by groups representing US artists and musicians, who called on authorities to investigate the group’s venue policies.

The Artist Rights Alliance, Center for Digital Democracy, and Future of Music Coalition sent a letter calling on the House Judiciary Committee to investigate Live Nation’s 2021 venue policies and its parent company, Liberty Media, for “monopolistic behaviour and abuses”.

In addition to calling on Congress to investigate, the Artist Rights Alliance launched a petition calling on artists to boycott Live Nation venues and find alternatives to Liberty Media’s offerings when and if possible. The petition also urged the DOJ to stop Liberty Media’s planned merger with iHeartMedia.