Learning Pack Preview: Who Owns the Media?

In 1996, The Nation published a special issue on the National Entertainment State. The issue featured a centerfold chart depicting the tentacles of four colossal conglomerates that were increasingly responsible for determining how Americans got their news — Time Warner, General Electric, Disney/Cap Cities and Westinghouse. Today, after a decade of strategic mergers, impulsive couplings and messy divorces — not to mention the birth of "new media" as well as a vigorous media reform movement — the landscape is considerably more complex, though it still bears the oversized footprints of a few giants. This is reflected not only in a detailed National Entertainment State chart, but in the range of contributions to the discussion in our July 3, 2006, issue.

The chart is an invitation to step back from the outrage of the moment — be it over Rush Limbaugh’s addled ranting, Bill O’Reilly’s spin or the White House press corps’s inability to distinguish between journalism and stenography — and see the big picture in gruesome detail. It reminds us that while we might hate the rigid recitation of conservative talking points on Fox News programs and love the Internet frontier reached via MySpace.com, both Fox and MySpace (and now you can add the Wall Street Journal) are owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. It tells us that when we are wondering whether we should trust an NBC Nightly News report on the greening of nuclear power, it is important to keep in mind that NBC’s owner, General Electric, has a more than passing interest in the development and operation of nuclear power plants. And the chart also reminds us that GE owns Universal Pictures and Universal Studios, making it a major player in the creation of the culture — the TV shows and movies — that goes so far to define what Americans think and do.

It is the power that a handful of corporations continue to wield over the media we consume — even the new media of a supposedly liberating Internet — that ought to concern us as citizens. It is not enough to hope that the Internet will set us free. Yes, the World Wide Web is evolving in ways that few anticipated a decade ago, but it is a good bet, however, that that new-media companies such as Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft will in relatively short order either displace some of the old-media companies on the chart or acquire or merge with them. In addition, the vast frontiers of new media are being colonized by big players of old media, which won round one in the fight over "net neutrality" with the House’s passage of the COPE Act, legislation that would allow commercial sites to dominate the net. With the FCC preparing another attempt to strike down rules that guard against local media monopolies, we are entering a period of intense struggle over the fundamental questions for both old and new media: Who will own what, and will the rules regulating ownership be written to benefit the owners or the rest of us? The powerhouses of today’s National Entertainment State stand ready to answer those questions as they always have, by using all their might to make sure that the new boss is the same as the old boss.

In this pack:

Murdoch’s Fox News
Daphne Eviatar | Fox News may claim its “fair and balanced,” but the author finds that right-wing partiality reigns at Rupert Murdochs news network (March 12, 2001).


Liberal Signs of Life
Eric Alterman | The author explores the myth of “the liberal media” (July 14, 2003).


Lap Dogs of the Press
Helen Thomas | The senior White House reporter bemoans the obsequious behavior of her colleagues (March 27, 2006).


A Ten-Point Plan for Media Democracy
Jeffrey Chester | Here are ten suggestions for rewriting the Telecom Act (July 3, 2006).


Use the Tools
Markos Moulitsas Zúniga | The author argues that balance and fairness in the mainstream media have become less important now that anyone can become a media person on the Internet (July 3, 2006).


Bush World
Lakshmi Chaudhry | Thanks to worldwide media conglomerates, just about everyone with a TV can watch American Idol and thats not a good thing (July 3, 2006).


Brave New Media
Robert Greenwald | Filmmakers are discovering that the World Wide Web is a most hospitable place to air their cutting-edge documentaries (July 3, 2006).


Local Media Left Behind
ETHAN MICHAELI | Local newspapers, radio and TV are suffering as consolidation dominates the news industry (July 3, 2006).


Stealth Media
Ana Marie Cox | Consolidation has rendered true indie companies nearly extinct (July 3, 2006).


The Death of News
Nicholas von Hoffman | Newspaper jobs are evaporating along with readers, but the author says the Internet wont fill the gap left behind (November 15, 2006).