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January 30, 2006

PLAP 314 Report #1: Media Conglamerates

This is the first in a series concerning the Mass Media and American Politics (PLAP 314) course at the University of Virginia. This course will look at the effects the mainstream media and newer forms of media, such as blogging, on society's view of DC and other politics.

Mass media implies a large number, but the MSM is anything but "mass" concerning the number of sources.
"In 1983, Ben Bagdikian published The Media Monopoly, which chronicled how some fifty media conglomerates dominated the entirety of U.S. mass media. By today's standard, that era was downright competitive."
- Oligopoly, Robert W. McChesney
Indeed, today, much of the media is dominated by what could be called super-conglomerates which own control of multiple levels of media, not just print, television, or internet. For example, ABC and ESPN are both owned by Disney, and Gannett owns multiple newspapers, such as USA Today, and television affiliates, such as W*USA-9 in DC and K*USA-9 in Denver. Think these are big organizations? Rupert Murdoch has a much larger spread even.
Murdoch's News Corp. owns the Fox network and fifteen TV stations. It produces cable programming (Fox News, Fox Sports, [the currently defunct] Fox Family Channel). Its studios are 20th Century Fox, Fox Animation, and Searchlight. It owns the New York Post, along with hundreds of newspapers worldwide. It also owns the conservative Weekly Standard and the book company Harper-Collins. Its sports teams are the Los Angeles Dodgers and the National Rugby League in Australia.
- Oligopoly, Robert W. McChesney
Wow. News Corp. is not just the news, but can even make the news. And recently, the WB and UPN joined together to form the CW network, presumably as these other large conglomerates cut into the abilities of these two stations. What does all this mean?

Well, these media giants do look for corporate sponsors to make their earnings. These sponsors may be more willing to spend more towards each company. However, any stories that can compromise the standing of the sponsor, the media conglomerate, or perhaps even political interests held by the conglomerate. Sound like a conspiracy theory?
As more and more media outlets come under the control of fewer and fewer corporate owners, the potential for conflicts of interest increases. News organizations owned by large conglomerates with far-flung investmentsare more likely to find that the public issues they report on carry implications for the corporate parent's financial health.
- Corporate Ownership and News Bias: Newspaper Coverage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, Martin Gilens and Craig Hertzman
So what can be done then?

McChesney suggests, among other things, more regulations. Personally, I do not think such a move is necessary (in fact, I think it would only do more harm then good, similar to the McCain-Feingold Act that so greatly affected the 2004 presidential election). One solution sits right in front of you: the internet. Professor Freedman said it best, noting that the internet is affordable to the masses the way the printing press was available to political interests in the past and large companies in recent years. Blogs, this one included, are examples, as are podcasts and message boards. Think that the massive and funded conglomerates cannot be beaten? I am skeptical, as Hollywood has been hit hard in the pocketbook this past year, and blogs quickly ousted "Rathergate" as a farce. And the large conglomerates are not impervious; CBS and Viacom recently split.

This is not to say that the MSM is without its purpose; on the contrary, even bloggers rely heavily on their reports. But that is not to say that they do not leave much to be desired. Even as blogs may require more trust on my part than what is reported by the MSM, I have found them to be a very reliable source in response to other media outlets.

Large media corporations hold a lot of power and a lot of money, but we cannot expect that they will last forever. Eventually, they will fall naturally to competition, which may include non-biased or openly-biased media sources. Mass media appears to relate more to the size of each company rather than the amount of competition, and still, the old saying holds; "the bigger they are, the harder they fall."