Most of us depend on the mainstream media to stay informed about current events, but whose picture of the world are we really getting? The perspective of big business.
Six huge corporations (Comcast, News-Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner and CBS) own approximately 90% of the global media. That puts 232 media executives in charge of the news that informs 313 million Americans. In 1983, 50 corporations controlled most of the media. That number has now shrunk to six.
Do these monopolies allow journalism to provide, as Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black hoped in the early 20th century, “the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources,” which is “essential to the welfare of the public”? No.
The media’s transformation into a corporate enterprise has led it to favor business interests. The media provides perspectives from across the political spectrum, from FOX News (owned by NewsCorp) to MSNBC (owned by Comcast), but all those conflicting voices merely provide the illusion of choice. Regardless of the political affiliation of a news outlet, all coverage is shaped by the interests of the stations’ corporate sponsors and a desire to maintain control over a media empire. The prevalence of these interests causes biased coverage that misinforms the public.
In 2012, the Washington Post published an article calling TV newscasts “corporate advertising masquerading as news.” The Post doesn’t have much of a moral high ground, however: In September 2012, the Post published a debate on energy policy that featured proponents of oil and gas drilling on one side and…no one on the other side. The Post also neglected to mention that that particular issue of the newspaper was made possible by huge donations from the American Petroleum Institute (API), one of the largest players in the oil industry. The favorable platform that corporate media provides big business gives companies like API the opportunity to spoonfeed the public the perspectives they want us to adopt.
Because fewer companies control the media, competition between news sources has increased, and the media has become more reliant on big-business donors. Last year, according to The New Yorker, PBS was scheduled to air a documentary called “Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream,” which is critical of the über wealthy, including the Koch brothers. The Kochs also happen to be on PBS’s board, and the station bent over backwards to avoid offending them, offering them a chance to write a written response that would air after the documentary or to participate in a roundtable discussion with other business leaders in order to critique the film on-air. PBS later acknowledged that its decision to air responses from the Kochs was unprecedented.
So, the next time you read your favorite paper, watch a news broadcast, or listen to a radio talk show, think about where your news is coming from, and take your information with a grain of salt.