Essay, Research Paper
How much of what your read in a paper or magazine, or hear on the television is actually the true story, and how much of it has been altered by a corporation who wishes to control what you hear? The public should feel that they are getting the whole story, not a story approved by an executive, taking out content that is damaging to the parent corporation or something they just don t agree with. When parent companies interfere with the reporting of sources under their control they are wrongfully using their market position to deprive consumers of accurate information.
Beginning with the first of the mega media mergers, Capital Cities buying ABC in 1986, and then after the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which opened the floodgates, the trend has been for large corporations to buy media and broadcast companies. According to the FCC there have been over 1000 broadcast deals in the last ten years. On the outside this appears to be a fairly benign offshoot of late 20th century capitalism s tendency of merger, acquisition, and hostile takeovers, but further review reveals that the conglomeration of media outlets hurts consumers by taking choice out of their hands and putting it into the hands of corporations. The media giants have become neglectful in their duties to serve a public interest . Instead they serve their own narrow interest. These narrow interests do serve the stockholders, theoretically of which anyone can become, but this is not the traditional position that media outlets should hold.
Broadcast and print media represent their own spheres of public service and expectations. The mainstream media is expected to be somewhat unbiased and objective in reporting on current issues, (within the range of the political leanings of their editors).
Corporate pressure to squeeze out every penny in earnings has forever changed the look of news reporting. Gone are the days of respected newsmen such as Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow. Gone are the days of honest, hard-hitting expos s of large corporations and government. Today news department s budgets are repeatedly slashed, the news has become an unwanted child that has been deemed less important than earning that extra dollar hawking the movies and products of the corporate parent. The news has become an ever-shrinking bit player in huge corporate machines. This pressure to cut costs and increase earning has ensured only news that is the best marketed will reach your home, not the most thoroughforcing the few remaining independent news organizations to cut costs, further hurting their ability to report or forcing them out of business, or into the hands of their competitors.
Editors and newsroom executives now fear upsetting their bosses by printing or broadcasting a story that will cast the parent company in a negative light. The move towards profits at all costs means control has been taken out of the hands of those that know the business and put in the hands of those whose sole motivation is the bottom line. An excellent example of this is Time magazine s decision to put a story about Pok mon on the cover of a recent issue, this issue just happened to coincide with Warner Brother s (the other half of Time Warner) release of a Pok mon movie. Unpopular ideas are now quashed in boardrooms instead of being put into the public forum where they have a chance to be debated on their merit.
The last several years have produced many examples of corporations killing stories they did not like; two examples took place at ABC and CBS.
Michael Eisner, the chairman of Disney, which owns ABC, said in an interview in September of 1998 I would prefer ABC not to cover Disney. I think it s inappropriate. a short time later at ABC s 20/20 a decision was made not to run a story about lax security and child molestation at Disney World. Many feel that the story was killed to avoid angering executives at parent company Disney, who have a history of firing those in their company who disagree with the company and Eisner s comments back this up.
Another example was at CBS when a decision was made to not air an interview with a former tobacco company executive. Executives at General Electric who own CBS also sit on the boards at several tobacco companies likely motivated the decision to kill the story.
Another arena where the media s bias has become more pronounced is in the political arena. Although the media has always had influence over politics, often it was passive. Large corporations with political agendas have the ability to promote candidates and parties subtly in news programs by giving them more airtime and covering up minor embarrassing mistakes, while candidates or incumbents who are disliked can be shown in a negative light or receive less air time. These actions essentially take choice out of the hands of the public and put it in the hands of the executives.
These large conglomerates can interfere with the political process both here and abroad. During the debates over the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the networks were accused of providing spotty coverage when the debate centered around giving the networks control over the digital spectrum in anticipation of coming high definition television transmission. Instead the networks focused on the impact that the act would have upon its competitors in cable and telephone service. CNN also refused to run phone companies commercials during the debate that claimed cable rates would increase with the passage of the Act, fearing public outcry would harm chances of the bill being passed.
The negative influence that media mergers have can extend into all areas of society, even the home. Investigative reporting has long been one of the consumer’s few safeguards against faulty products, malicious corporations and corrupt government. Now with many media outlets owned by corporations that sell huge amounts of varied products, the likelihood of a damning report on a product is reduced by executive interference causing the balance of power to be shifted even farther in the favor of corporate America. Consumers stand to be hurt the most by this shift, with deregulation allowing corporations to own several outlets in one market could force higher prices on goods when advertisers are forced to buy ad time on additional outlets in order to get air time on the station they desire.
As the desire for higher and higher profits (to provide funding for more acquisitions) is realized the likelihood of investigative reporting decreases. Many companies are clamoring for open trade with authoritarian governments such as China and Viet Nam. Most likely any station or paper owned by a company wishing to do business in these countries will tone down or not run any stories condemning the offending government, human rights violations or working conditions. In 1996 a NBC vice-president publicly apologized to China for remarks made by Bob Costas about Chinas human rights violations and threats to Taiwan, this apology was likely induced by GE s, NBC s corporate parent, fears of losing contracts with the Chinese government. This places profit motives ahead of morals and human dignity, which is not the proper decision for a corporation to be making.
Unfortunately with deregulation of the industry this problem will only get worse, unbiased reporting will become harder and harder to find. Mergers will give corporations more and more control over what you see and hear, consumers will become less and less informed allowing corporations to take even more advantage of them. It appears that the last truly free frontier of reporting may be the internet at least until the corporations find a way to control it.
Hickey, Neil. Coping with Mega-Mergers Columbia Journalism Review, January/February 1997. Available Online www.cjr.org/year/97/1/telecom.asp
Hickey, Neil. Coping with Mega-Mergers Columbia Journalism Review, March/April 2000. Available Online www.cjr.org/year/00/2/aoltw.asp
Howe, Peter. Massive Mass Media The Boston Globe, September 12, 1999 p J1 Lexis/Nexis
Landay, Jerry. Mergers Threaten Democracy . USA Today, September 10, 1999 p 28A Lexis/Nexis
Oliver, Charles. Investor s Business Daily, October 8, 1999 p A8 Lexis/Nexis
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