Quantcast

Nation Topics - Society | The Nation

Topic Page

Articles

News and Features

* * *

When legendary media critic A.J. Liebling issued that warning some
decades ago about the corrosive effect of media monopolies on the First
Amendment, media ownership was a great deal more varied than it is today.

Even then, it was far more concentrated in a few hands than when the
Bill of Rights was written, when "the press" was a low-capital venture,
and newspapers were easily launched by those who had something to say.
The founding fathers hardly anticipated today's media market, in which
journalism is a vehicle for mega-corporate profits, and the diversity of
opinion implied in the First Amendment is threatened less by a king or the
state and far more by the motives of media barons.

Nowadays, media mega-mergers are the rage, and the Bush Administration
is determined to remove legal barriers to media conglomeration that long
have prevented a few giant corporations from controlling all of print and
broadcast journalism. But can we count on the very news organizations
whose owners are zealously pursuing profit from those mergers to also
objectively cover the implications of media concentration for a free
society?

The initial signs aren't promising. When America Online purchased Time
Warner in the biggest media merger in US history, there was
considerable analysis of the deal's business aspects but meager attention
to implications for a representative democracy of having a significant
portion of its media controlled by one corporation.

Previously, one could assume that Time magazine, AOL and CNN, as well
as other parts of the new conglomerate, at least reflected the voices of
different owners, but that's no longer the case. Also, with that merger,
AOL went from being an outsider company demanding open access to cable to
being the second-largest cable operator. Suddenly it muted its open
access demand, leaving the perception that the news outlets now assembled
under the AOL banner might also have had a change of heart as to what's
important in the cable controversy.

Most recently, the new Bush FCC appointees relaxed a long-standing
"dual network rule" barring one television network from buying another.
The result is that Viacom, which owns CBS, will have a large stake in the
UPN network. Will other broadcasters anticipating similar deals permit
their news organizations to voice dissenting opinions, or launch
investigations of the FCC's abandonment of its consumer watchdog role?

Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch has made clear his intention to purchase
DirecTV from General Motors. If he succeeds, he'll combine the largest
US satellite broadcaster with his existing satellite network, which is
pervasive in much of the rest of the world. Will journalists laboring in
his vast empire dare raise troubling questions about the danger of one
man holding such overwhelming power in the world communications market?

Further, Bush's new FCC chairman, Michael Powell, promises to
eliminate the 1975 prohibition against cross-ownership--a company owning
a TV station and newspaper in the same market. That might prove immensely
profitable to the Tribune Co., which, in purchasing the Times Mirror Co.
last year, acquired newspapers in three markets where Tribune already
owned television stations. But is cross-ownership healthy for independent
journalism in those markets, which include New York and Los Angeles? Will
the news outlets that are subsidiaries in the deal fully examine the
journalistic implications of media concentration? Or will they only
report on the wonders of what the owners celebrate as "convergence" or
"synergy"?

The answer suggested by the last election is that media have
difficulty covering themselves fully when the owners' financial interests
are seriously in play. How else can one explain the scant attention paid
to the difference between Al Gore--who opposed cross-ownership--and
George W. Bush on this issue?

Also ignored in the coverage was the stake that media moguls had in
the Democrats not gaining control of Congress. Had that happened, John
Dingell (D-Mich.) would be chairing the House Commerce Committee, which
oversees the work of the FCC. Dingell was on record as opposing the
Tribune purchase of Times Mirror because such mergers lead to a "huge
concentration of power in a small group of hands."

That's why Dingell and others believe that government regulation to
preserve a diverse media market is essential. The rules concerning media
ownership were not carelessly drawn up over the preceding decades to
inconvenience the media industry. Rather, they were designed to save the
media business from its worst instincts.

Regulation is a reminder that there is a public interest in the news
media as in no other industry because corporate concentration threatens
the competition vital to an unfettered press. The free press belongs to
us all and not just to the few who own one.

When we last visited New York Times foreign affairs pundit Thomas Friedman during last year's Seattle protests, he was attacking critics of the antidemocratic World Trade Organization as a

Holly Burkhalter

Holly Burkhalter has more than twenty years' experience in the human rights field.

Pacifica Radio is in trouble.

"This trial," said the plaintiff, David Irving, "is not really about what happened in the Holocaust." Opposing counsel agreed: "The essence of the case is Mr.

It is delightfully ironic that a site has been approved for the construction of a monument in Martin Luther King Jr.'s name on the Washington Mall, given that in the last months of his life, King

Despite all the palaver, the denouement came quickly.

The editors of The New York Times Magazine had a good idea recently.

Students heading for DC are bringing more than a toothbrush and a change of underwear.

Blogs

Real revolutions will never be televised. But the man who told us that revolutionized music and movements. 

May 29, 2011

Pepe le Pew meets Michelle.

May 27, 2011

It was a bad week for a good man, but the MSNBC host will be back to give voice to working men and women.

May 26, 2011

New statistics on US crime released by the FBI reveal that crime has dropped significantly over the past few years while prison populations have exploded, putting huge strains on state budgets.

May 26, 2011

Eric on Chomsky's dishonesty and Reed Richardson on Paul Ryan's medicare debacle.

May 26, 2011

How the media frenzy obliterated the presumption of innocence and relentlessly impugned both Strauss-Kahn and his accuser in vulgar stereotypes.

May 24, 2011

Joakim Noah's use of an anti-gay slur continues a discussion that NBA officialdom appears to loathe having.

May 24, 2011

Presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty often shies away from discussing his views on abortion, but they are clearly deeply held—and very radical. 

May 24, 2011

Facing a shortage of lethal injection drugs, some death penalty states have begun switching up the drug cocktail used in executions—but is this experimentation legal?

May 24, 2011

Three former teammates have testified that they saw the cyclist take performance-enhancing drugs, but the fans Armstrong has built through his support for cancer research are loyal and will stick with him.

May 24, 2011