The dangers of the concentration of media ownership is an awareness that we simply must not ignore. By Dylan Lee.
The High School Student Council kicked off Spirit Days for this semester early Tuesday morning this past week. The themes announced by the Student Council were Disney+ and Decades. Unsurprising to most of us, WSP high school students were able to expand their imagination past Disney animation characters. Disney royalty characters to feisty Fox Newscasters arrived on campus. Obviously, students arrived wearing a wide range of interpretations to the Disney+ theme announced by the Student Council. This is a great opportunity to bring your attention and awareness to another aspect of how media giants are influencing our daily lives. Have you ever noticed that the movies you watch, the magazines you read, and the radio you listen to are all run by a few large corporations? This is called media concentration. It’s a process where fewer and fewer individuals and organizations control the shares of the mass media. Contemporary research shows increasing levels of media consolidation being dominated by a very small number of firms. Media firms are motivated to merge results from different companies so that they can increase revenues and maintain a competitive edge and viewership.
In recent years, as information and entertainment have become an increasingly major part of our culture, media companies have found ways to become more efficient in reaching viewers and creating profit. Successful media companies usually buy out other companies to make them more powerful and profitable, which in turn enables them to reach a larger viewing audience.
In the United States, there are only six main conglomerates that control most of the broadcast media: CBS Corporation, Comcast, Time Warner, 21st Century Fox (formerly News Corporation), Viacom, and The Walt Disney Company. Globally, some of the largest media conglomerates include Bertelsmann, Sony Corporation, America Online, AT&T Inc., Fox Corporation, and Hearst Communications. As of 2020, the largest media conglomerates in terms of revenue are Comcast, The Walt Disney Company, AT&T, and ViacomCBS. According to Fox Business, the biggest media merger of all time was in 2000 when America Online bought control over Time Warner for a total of $112 billion.
One reason why the practice of media concentration is so harmful is because it increases the risk of media integrity: the ability of a media outlet to serve the public interest and the democratic process. This refers to the idea that the information being presented to the public should be uncorrupt and uninfluenced by certain individuals. Media integrity is especially endangered when the owners of the media have relationships with political figures. This can potentially lead to the media being used to support particular political interests, which goes against the basic ideals of democracy.
Another issue that arises with media consolidation is that the diversity of viewpoints has been diminished. This is a result of having fewer owners, which in turn leads to fewer voices being heard. Additionally, freedom of press and editorial independence can also be limited. On the local end, it is very common for reporters to have their stories refused or edited beyond recognition. One prime example of this is when networks refuse to air “ads” from anti-war advocates, liberal groups like MoveOn.org, and even religious groups like the United Church of Christ, regardless of factual basis.
Broadcast media may be directly sponsored by parties who are being featured in editorial reports, leading to reports which actually favor the sponsor or which simply repeat the sponsors’ opinion. Consequently, if the companies dominating a media market choose to suppress stories that do not serve their interests, the public suffers, since they may not be adequately informed of crucial issues that affect them.
Research suggests that more concentrated media ownership also results in a conservative shift in the ideologies being spread. In 2017, a study was done on the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns 191 stations that reach nearly 40 percent of the US population. It obtained 14 local stations that year, and they showed a rightward political shift, employing significantly more right-wing phrases than they had previously used, such as “death tax” instead of “estate tax” or “illegal aliens” instead of “undocumented immigrants.” This strongly suggests that corporate bias is slanting information and undermining the ideal of an objective press.
The concentration of media ownership and the corporate conflicts of interest are threatening the truth. The media has a huge amount of power, influencing the way we see the world, especially politically. But if the media fails to provide us with unbiased information, we can’t make accurate judgements. As Jim Morrison, lead vocalist of rock band The Doors, remarked, “whoever controls the media, controls the mind.” The media is a means of mass communication that is impactful and a reflection of our society. The media is a powerful influence that affects opinions and attitudes, affects the lives of the individual and their perceptions, and affects society as a whole. Do we really want to continue to let massive conglomerates manipulate our thoughts for their profit?
Knowing this, it is important to check where you are getting information from and understand if what you are reading is a sponsored work. In addition, cross checking your facts by using various sources can help you be more informed and give you a broader perspective on a topic. Who would have thought, an innocent spirit day theme would give us a reason to dig deeper into its context.