The Effects of Corporate Ownership On Media Content “We are here to serve advertisers. That is our raison d’etre,” said the CEO of CBS. Since the 1980s, there have been a lot of corporate mergers and buyouts in the media and entertainment industry. As a result, mainstream media has become more concentrated due to ownership and influence from advertisers. According to Mother Jones magazine, there were eight giant media companies dominating the US media.
Most people get their information from these few sources, making it difficult to hear fresh and untainted news. These companies include: -Disney (market value: $72. billion) -AOL-Time Warner (market value: $90. 7 billion) -Viacom (market value: $53. 9 billion) -General Electric (owner of NBC, market value: $390. 6 billion) -News Corporation (market value: $56. 7 billion) -Yahoo! (market value: $40. 1 billion) -Microsoft (market value: $306. 8 billion) -Google (market value: $154. 6 billion) These companies listed above are the “first tier” companies that make billions of dollars as they control the media.
Robert McChesney said that there are then about 50 “second tier” companies that follow in the footsteps of the larger, first tier companies. However, compared to our past, our sources of news in the media are limited. “In 1983, fifty corporations dominated most of every mass medium and the biggest media merger in history was a $340 million deal.In 1987, the fifty companies had shrunk to twenty-nine.In 1990, the twenty-nine had shrunk to twenty-three.In 1997, the biggest firms numbered ten and involved the $19 billion Disney-ABC deal, at the time the biggest media merger ever.
In 2000, AOL Time Warner’s $350 billion merged corporation was more than 1,000 times larger than the biggest deal of 1983. (Ben H. Bagdikian, The Media Monopoly, Sixth Edition) Based on the characteristics of the public sphere model, Croteau and Hoynes see the public sphere on a macro level as a social discourse than enables the circulation of ideas and knowledge, thereby ensuring the successful socialization of individuals into society. Mass media are seen as capable of affecting people’s behavior. Having an effect on publics media organizations should “promote active citizenship, education, and social integration” through their messages.
The major problem with the media today is that the corporations that fund the media are seeking to make the largest possible profits and in turn, the satisfaction of viewers is compromised. And, since there are so few corporations now, as a result of either mergers or weeding out, diversity has become an issue. While some may think they can change the channel and find a new source, the same corporations own many of the other stations. Also, those eight corporations that were listed earlier are all competing with one another, which you would think might lead to diversity in subjects and reporting so that they can stand out, has actually had the opposite effect. The competing corporations often report the same news in order to keep up with one another and not fall behind. According to Croteau and Hoynes, media in the public sphere model should be characterized by diversity, innovation, substance, and independence. Innovation means creative and fresh content rather than the presence of new technologies. Substantial media messages are those that address significant issues, educate audiences, and promote participation in social life. Content should be independent from corporate and governmental interests. Government and other organizations should not limit the range of presented perspectives on issues. As McChesney discussed in his book The Problem of the Media, “Ownership does matter, especially in media, where control over ideas, news, and culture rates as a unique power even among powerful corporations. Private ownership of media, in nonegalitarian societies, is not content-neutral or viewpoint-neutral; the best ideas do not automatically rise to the top. Add advertising’s role, as well as the workings of the oligopolistic marketplace, and private ownership becomes a vise that directly and indirectly pressures content. ” There have been several incidences throughout time in which corporate owners censor media content. The war in Iraq is one of the main issues in which the media feels the need to maintain loyalty to our government and the United States, even if it means voiding significant information and leaving the public in the dark. For example, McChesney has noted that a few weeks after the war began in Afghanistan, AOL Time Warner’s CNN made clear the propagandistic nature of the war through their coverage. The president of CNN, Walter Isaacson, had CNN cover the war in two different lights: a more critical light for the global audience, and a sugarcoated version for the American viewers. For any story that Isaacson felt might undermine support for the US war, he made sure that it was balanced with a reminder that the war on terrorism is a response to the heinous attacks of September 11. Richard Phillips wrote an article about the censorship of Disney on its subsidiary Miramax Film Corporation. When Oscar-winning filmmaker Michael Moore came out with his documentary Fahrenheit 911, Disney would not allow Miramax to distribute the film because of their campaign to censor or silence all opposition to Bush’s “global war on terrorism”. According to the New York Times, Disney told Miramax that Moore’s documentary would be bad for business, endangering in particular the tax breaks it receives for its theme parks, hotels and other ventures in Florida, where Jeb Bush is governor. “It is not in the interest of any major corporation to be dragged into a highly charged political battle,” a senior Disney executive told the newspaper. Miramax has said that Disney is “misapplying” its power over its subsidiary and wants to negotiate a deal. In 1989, an NBC reporter broke a story about defective bolts that were being used by General Electric, the owner of NBC. The bolts were supposed to be certified, but they were not. The bolts were believed to be used on airplanes, bridges, and nuclear power plants. The Today Show received a copy of the story from the NBC reporter, but before it aired, all references to General Electric were removed from the story. This was actually an act of self-censorship. The head of neither NBC nor GE had to say anything, because the people knew enough that the story could not air with negative references to GE. Another example of NBC and GE was one that we viewed in class. Saturday Night Live, a television show on NBC, is a comedy show comprised of several skits that airs live on Saturday nights (as you can tell from the title). One common sketch on the television show is a cartoon entitled “TV Fun House”. This particular episode of TV Fun House, however, mocked both NBC and General Electric. In subsequent airings of the episode, the sketch of this TV Fun House was deleted from the show. It is believed by many that a concentration of ownership is a major concern and the cause of many problems. As Ben Bagdikian said, “Defenders of narrowing control of the media point, accurately enough, to the large numbers of media outlets available to the population: almost 1,700 daily papers, more than 8,000 weeklies, 10,000 radio and television stations, 11,000 magazines, 2,500 book publishers.and more.Unfortunately, the large numbers deepen the problem of excessively concentrated control. If the number of outlets is growing and the number of owners declining, then each owner controls even more formidable communications power. ” Bagdikian goes on to discuss a solution for the problem of concentration in the media. The answer is not to eliminate private enterprises in the media, but to restore genuine competition and diversity. The media is weak right now and lacks the ability to guide growing generations. There is even a bias in sources that are being used in reporting. The organization FAIR, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, did a study in 2001 of ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News. The results of the study on sources that were being used found that “92 percent of all U. S. sources interviewed were white, 85 percent were male and, where party affiliation was identifiable, 75 percent were Republican. ” Over time, companies have merged into large and privately owned corporations that dominate several different marketplaces. By uniting into one company, like AOL and Time Warner for example, they become an unstoppable power that has eliminated one of its largest competitors. As a result of mergers, the amount of competitors continues to shrink and the largest corporations are almost working together to control the media and the flow of information. However, each corporation has its own interests in mind. There were many examples, a few listed above, that prove the censorship of private owners over its subsidiaries and their content. By buying up all of the smaller and less powerful companies, the dominating corporations are only spreading their personal viewpoints and the information that they want to be seen through several different outlets. The public hardly even realizes that several of the stations that they tune into for their sources of news are owned by the same corporations and are therefore reporting the same things. For all of these reasons, corporate ownership has become a problem and has in turn affected media content. Bibliography Bagdikian, Ben H. The New Media Monopoly. Boston: Beacon P, 2004. Cohen, Jeff. “Unfair Access. ” July 2001. 1 May 2008 <multinationalmonitor. org>. McChesney, Robert W. The Problem of the Media. New York: Monthly Review P, 2004. Phillips, Richard. “Disney Blocks Release of Michael Moore Documentary. ” World Socialist Website. 7 May 2004. 1 May 2008 <wsws. org>. Shah, Anup. “Media Conglomerates, Mergers, Concentration of Ownership. ” Global Issues. 29 Apr. 2007. 1 May 2008 <www. globalissues. org>.