The danger is not that this single controller would necessarily be evil, though this kind of extravagant power has a grim history. Whether evil or benevolent, centralized control over information, whether governmental or private, is incompatible with freedom. Modem democracies need a choice of politics and ideas, and that choice requires access to truly diverse and competing sources of news, literature, entertainment, and popular culture. Fortunately, no single corporation controls all the mass media in the United States. But something is happening that points in that direction.
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The danger is not that this single controller would necessarily be evil, though this kind of extravagant power has a grim history. Whether evil or benevolent, centralized control over information, whether governmental or private, is incompatible with freedom.
Modem democracies need a choice of politics and ideas, and that choice requires access to truly diverse and competing sources of news, literature, entertainment, and popular culture.
Fortunately, no single corporation controls all the mass media in the United States. But something is happening that points in that direction. If mergers and acquisitions by large corporations continue at the present rate, one massive firm will be in virtual control of all major media by the s.
Given the complexities of social and economic trends, that is not inevitable. It is, however, quite possible - and serious corporate leaders predict - that by the s a half-dozen large corporations will own all the most powerful media outlets in the United States. The predictions are not groundless.
They are based on extraordinary changes in recent years. At the end of World War II, for example, more than 80 percent of the daily newspapers in the United States were independently owned, but by the proportion was almost reversed: 72 percent were owned by outside corporations and 15 of those corporations had most of the business.
The pace of takeovers by large national and multinational corporations is increasing. Today, despite 25, media outlets in the United States, 29 corporations control most of the business in daily newspapers, magazines, television, books, and motion pictures. Few investors be lieve that the process of tightening control will stop soon.
When asked where it will all stop, Shaw likes to quote a client, saying that by the year all U. Most would agree that one "czar" in control would be disastrous for democracy, yet they praise the march toward that unhealthy end. The media they control take every opportunity to report the beauties of corporate bigness. And while there is much news and commentary about media mergers and acquisitions, it is reported almost exclusively as a financial game without social consequences.
The general public is told almost nothing of the dangers. If executives of dominant media corporations are personally silent about the dangers of concentrated ownership, it is not surprising: the process benefits them. But the media they control also are silent. The silence is not convincing evidence that the media never reflect the corporate and political interests of their owners.
On the other hand, it is unrealistic to expect media leaders to do otherwise. The answer is not a futile plea asking controllers of power to criticize their own power. The answer is to prevent dangerous concentration of power in the first place or, having failed that, to diversify that power.
Compounding the trend has been the practice of companies already dominant in one medium, like newspapers, investing in a formerly competitive medium, like television. In the past, each medium used to act like a watchdog over the behavior of its competing media. The newspaper industry watched magazines and both kept a public eye on the broadcasting industry.
But now the watchdogs have been cross-bred into an amiable hybrid. Not surprisingly, the giants universally insist that they improve the media they buy. But even if, in an unreal world, all corporate owners universally improved their acquisitions, even if they all made their properties totally open to conflicting news and views, concentrated media ownership would still damage democracy in the United States: concentrated power over public information is inherently anti-democratic.
Today, the chief executive officers of the 29 corporations that control most of what Americans read and see can fit into an ordinary living room.
Almost without exception they are conservative Republicans. They can, if they wish, use control of their newspapers, broadcast stations, magazines, books and movies to promote their own corporate values to the exclusion of others. Most say that they would never use that power. But even if sincere, they ignore human nature and they ignore history: when central interests are at stake, available power will always be used. In a democracy, the answer to great power is accountability to the public.
Accountability in business life in some cases requires government regulations to prevent monopoly or to make natural monopolies meet public service standards. But for most commerce, accountability is self-induced because there is enough diversity and competition so that consumers have real choices. In the media, "real choices" means a rich variety of political and social content in news, entertainment, and other public information, and enough competition in content and prices so that the average consumer has genuine alternatives.
It means equitable distribution of economic power in the marketplace so that a few dominant leaders cannot prevent true competition or the reasonable entry of new enterprises.
Today the country is losing diversity and competition among its major media and with it, thanks to monopoly and oligopoly, losing not only a variety of political voices but the economic accountability of the marketplace. Their principal claims are that they bring greater resources to improve their new acquisitions, that they have more sophisticated business management skills, that their size makes it easier to fend off government incursions on freedom of expression and improper advertiser influence, and, finally, that if they were tempted to use their power to the disadvantage of the public, the public would not stand for it.
In thousands of media transactions of recent years, some of these claims have been realized some of the time. But at best the record is mixed; most of the time the record is unimpressive or worse. Most have not. In the hundreds of small and medium-sized communities whose fate does not reach commentators in New York and Washington, acquisition of the local paper or television station by a large firm more often is followed by drastic cutbacks in staffs, either in brutal instant firings or more subtly by forced retirements and resignations that are not replaced.
Editorial content is cheapened. Corporations do not purchase local newspapers and broadcast stations for sentimental reasons. They buy them as investments that will yield a maximum return as quickly as possible. When they buy a local monopoly, which is typical of newspapers, or an assured share of the market, typical of television, few investors can resist the spectacular profits that can be made by cutting quality and raising prices.
Christopher Shaw, the merger expert, for example, speaking at a session of potential media investors in October , said that a daily monopoly newspaper with a 15 percent annual operating profit, can, within two years of purchase, be making a 40 percent profit by cutting costs and raising advertising and subscription prices.
Every other outstanding paper was originally created by an independent, noncorporate owner committed to long-term quality and strength. The claim that large corporations can better resist incursions of government into freedom of the press can be true. Some-not all - have done so. They can also better afford to fight large libel actions brought for political purposes, though by being large they tend to attract larger lawsuits. Many of the larger media companies - the New York Times, Washington Post, and Gannett, for example - have spent money and energy working for more open meetings of public bodies and resisting White House efforts to weaken the Freedom of Information Act.
But when large media corporations have to choose between, on the one hand, candidates who will give governmental favors in corporate taxes and relaxed business regulation, or, on the other hand, candidates who support freedom of the press, the record is not encouraging. The history of relations between big government and big corporations is more of accommodation than of confrontation. Richard Nixon and RonaldReagan, in their first terms in the White House, made the most severe attacks in this century on freedom of the press, but both made extraordinary moves to support corporate expansion in the media; newspaper publishers overwhelmingly endorsed both Nixon and Reagan for reelection.
The claim by corporate owners of greater resistance to advertiser pressures has mixed validity. Greater public sophistication and professional journalistic standards have made ineffective past clumsy interjection of ads into editorial content, though it still exists in many places.
But alteration of the basic form and content in newspapers, magazines, and television programs - creating editorial content not for the needs and interests of the audience but to enhance advertising - has become far more intense under corporate ownership. It is a favorite axiom of large media operators that while they have great power, if they abuse it the public will reject their product. But public choice is inoperative where there is monopoly, which is the case in 98 percent of cities with a daily newspaper, or market dominance by the few, which is the case with television.
New corporate owners of newspapers and television stations, for example, commonly reduce staff and news space. Neither newspapers nor broadcasters tell their audience about their staffing and investment in content, except in self-serving promotional terms. If the audience senses a new thinness, they seldom have an alternative. Large media corporations are the primary shapers of American public opinion, and through that, they are a major influence on government.
Whether politicians are elected or reelected and whether their issues are publicized, depends on their treatment in the news. Consequently, government leaders tend to be extraordinarily attentive to the corporate wishes of the media.
It is not accidental that one factor stimulating the growth of newspaper chains was a favorable government tax ruling. But the Internal Revenue Service decided that a newspaper using its accumulated profits to buy another newspaper is "a necessary cost of doing business. Hearst wanted to be president. James M. Cox, publisher of a paper in Ohio, became Democratic candidate for president in , only to be defeated for the presidency by another Ohio newspaper, publisher, Warren Gamaliel Harding.
Today, the primary political advantage of concentrated media power is no longer to gain high political office for the media executive. The primary danger of excessive media power is not promoting candidacies of the anonymous men and women who run corporations, but of promoting the politics and economics of the corporate world. The desire of most corporate leaders is not to become president of the United States, but to influence the U. The desire for governmental favors is not limited to large media corporations.
That was just as true of independent local owners. The difference is in the magnitude of desire and the magnitude of power. Many media owners are substantial defense contractors and are affected by success or failure of disarmament, by the size of defense budgets, by public versus private sector spending, by the level of social programs, by involvement of the United States in foreign countries where American corporations have heavy investments - all the components of a force changing the shape of American society that President Eisenhower called "the military-industrial complex.
The new media-industrial corporations also want quite specific actions from govemment, such as government contracts, relaxed application of antitrust laws, deregulation of business, elimination of limits on corporate profits, and corporate tax loopholes. For example, when General Electric bought RCA in and with it NBC news , it combined its media power with its other industrial and financial interests. Its multinational operations are sensitive to both domestic and foreign policy.
In , the Wall Street acquisition expert, Christopher S haw, listed for the benefit of potential media buyers the reasons one should buy newspapers, magazines, broadcast stations, or book publishing firms. The first reason was "profitability," the next reason was "influence. But there is another possibility: the public, almost totally dependent on the media to alert them to public problems, has seldom seen in their standard newspapers, magazines, or broadcasts anything to suggest the political and economic dangers of concentrated corporate control.
On the contrary, for years, the media have treated mergers and acquisitions as an exciting game that poses no threat to the national pattern of news and information. With few exceptions, major media owners are conservative Republicans but they still carry the news when liberal Democrats are elected and when legislatures impose environmental regulations on reluctant industries.
Most of the time, professional journalistic standards and public sophistication are high enough to make gross suppression of dramatic developments ineffective. But there are two kinds of impact on public opinion, one brief and superficial, the other prolonged and deep. The first is the single, isolated item, one of dozens reported on any given day in newspapers, radio, and television. That item and its other daily companions are followed the next day with dozens of new ones, each day tending to obliterate the impact of what went before.
Far more effective in creating public opinion is the pursuit of events or ideas until they are displayed in depth over a period of time, until they form a coherent picture and become integrated into public thinking.
It is this continuous repetition and emphasis that creates high priorities among the general public and in government. It is in that power - to treat some subjects briefly and obscurely but others repetitively and in depth, or to take initiatives unrelated to external events - where ownership interests most effectively influence the news. Because these discriminations are normal and necessary, it is difficult for the public and often for individual journalism professionals to detect when ownership interests become a problem.
A Summary of Ben Bagdikian’s “The Media Monopoly”
Of special interest are the complications that the ownership of NBC by General Electric brings to the picture. For GE is not your typical media company. This can lead to a lot of conflict of interest situations. How does he or she choose between the best interests of Company A or Company B?
The Media Brokers
It was rather disconcerting to find out my chosen profession was a bullshit PR function of the corporate world when I was nearing the end of my degree. I gave up reading this the first time but returned to it with energy and enthusiasm. Though readers pay for the pages of advertising, the high volume of pages printed in a newspaper plant because of ad pages reduces the production cost per page. It is the enormous increase in ad pages that makes for a net increase in the cost of the whole paper. So eliminating these pages would mean smaller printing runs, which would be cheaper in total but higher per page by 70 percent. A paper with level ads, twelve and a half pages, would cost, at most 14 cents, instead of the 20 cents for the present  level of ads, forty three pages. Elimination of most of the larger ads in a newspaper would reduce the cost of many manufactured goods whose makers now add the cost of ads to the price.