CORPORATE MEDIA THREATEN OUR DEMOCRACY Part 1

I’ve just finished reading Senator Bernie Sanders’ book, Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In. [1] The first part (6 chapters) is about the campaign and is interesting if you’re a political junkie.

The second part (10 chapters) is the policy platform that was the basis for his run for the presidency. It includes chapters on health care, education, climate change, criminal justice, immigration, the middle class, an economy that works for everyone, and reclaiming our democracy. These chapters are interesting if you’re interested in any of these issues or in knowing how we can get back to a society that is fair and just and provides equal opportunity for all.

The chapter that had the biggest effect on me was the one titled, Corporate Media and the Threat to Our Democracy. This chapter identifies the six huge corporations that control 90% of what we see, hear, and read. Combined, they have over $275 billion in revenues and are controlled by 15 billionaires. (In 1983, 50 corporations controlled 90% of our media and that was a high level of concentration.) Today’s 6 media corporations, and some key information about them, are:

  • Comcast (Revenue: $56 billion in 2011) It owns NBC, Telemundo, USA Network, New England Cable News, and a portion of A&E, the History Channel, Lifetime, PBS KIDS Sprout, and Hulu, as well as much, much more. It wants to merge with Time Warner (see below).
  • Disney (Revenue: $40 billion in 2011) It owns ABC; ESPN; Marvel; 277 radio stations; music and book publishers; Touchstone, Miramax, and Pixar production companies; and majority stakes in A&E, the History Channel, and Lifetime; as well as much, much more.
  • News Corp (Revenue: $33 billion in 2011) It owns Fox, National Geographic, Dow Jones (which includes The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, and Smart Money), the New York Post, TV Guide, the book publisher HarperCollins, Blue Sky Studios, and a portion of ESPN and Hulu, as well as much, much more.
  • Time Warner (Revenue: $29 billion in 2011) It owns CNN, HBO, TMZ, TBS, TNT, Cartoon Network, 22 magazines (including Time, People, Sports Illustrated, Life, Entertainment Weekly, Fortune, etc.), and much, much more. It wants to merge with Comcast (see above).
  • Viacom (Revenue $15 billion) It owns MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, Spike TV, BET, Paramount Pictures, and over 160 cable networks that reach over 600 million people, as well as much, much more.
  • CBS (Revenue $14 billion) It owns Showtime; Smithsonian; Simon & Schuster, Scribner, and Free Press book publishing; 130 radio stations; and much, much more.

Currently, Comcast and Time Warner, two of these corporate media giants, are proposing to merge, while two others, Disney and News Corp, are discussing a possible merger, and some shareholders are pressing the final two, CBS and Viacom, to merge. Therefore, media concentration is likely to increase further in the near future, unless we and regulatory government agencies take a stand against it.

These media giants play a huge role in shaping public consciousness and knowledge, and, therefore, affect political beliefs, the public’s understanding (or lack thereof) of policy issues, and election outcomes. Note that there are multiple joint ventures among these media giants, which further limit the variety of content available and provide opportunities for collusion.

Realistically, freedom of the press is accessible only to those who own a press, a radio or TV station, or a cable network, or who produce content distributed by these media outlets. Concentrated ownership of our news media means that a very few human beings, who have significant conflicts of interest (e.g., with advertising revenue), make the decisions about what news is presented and how. More importantly, they make decisions about what is NOT covered or reported.

In my next post, I’ll share some examples that Sanders gives of what’s covered and not covered by the corporate media and why. I’ll also identify some opportunities for action on the power of the giant media corporations and their threat to our democracy.

[1]      Sanders, B., 2016, Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In. St. Martin’s Press, NY, NY.

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