In his 2008 book, The Assault on Reason, Al Gore wrote: “A free press is supposed to function as our democracy’s immune system against… gross errors of fact and understanding.” But it doesn’t – as Gore explains – and that is what makes the mass media one of the most important obstacles to social and economic progress in the 21st century. A study by the Center for Public Integrity the same year titled, “The War Card: Orchestrated Deception on the Path to War,” documents that there were 935 false statements by President Bush and seven top officials of his administration. The report notes that “much of the wall-to-wall media coverage provided additional, ‘independent’ validation of the Bush administration’s false statements about Iraq.” The media’s acceptance of what they were told, rather than to do their own due diligence, was partly responsible for the massive American support Bush/Cheney got for starting the Iraq war. Filmmaker Michael Moore concurs with the Center for Public Integrity’s assessment.
Even so, many believed that journalistic integrity was revered, facts were important, and independent voices provided more honest and unbiased press. That changed in 2011 with massive media consolidation. Today, balanced reporting is less prevalent and our news is often reported with one-sided views more than actual facts. Unfortunately, readers and viewers are the ones who are left suffering. While there are still approximately 1,500 newspapers and 1,100 magazines in circulation, 9,000 radio and 1,500 television stations, as well as 2,400 publishers, just six corporations own most of them.
While Gannett is not in the top six corporations, it and other mammoth media venues are continuing to gobble up other media entities, limiting voices, and shaping dialogue. Gannett, anchored by USA Today, is the biggest newspaper company in the country, both by circulation and revenue, in an industry that is increasingly dominated by fewer, larger players. In addition to USA Today, Gannett owns a number of dailies across the country, but it is still interested in enlarging its holdings. Recently, they offered a very generous bid for Tribune Publishing in Chicago.
According to the Huffington Post , the American people are more skeptical about receiving their news on the internet and through social media sites than traditional major media outlets. Unfortunately, they should be questioning everything they hear and see regardless of the source, to avoid getting a biased opinion. A large amount of today’s reporting is skewed, biased, and purposefully false. This kind of reporting makes it hard for the average person to get a clear understanding of the day’s events, what is taking place in our political process, and what is happening around the world. For example, according to PolitiFact, the percentage of claims of TV networks that are false is astounding.
Consolidation not only limits facts, it limits people’s choices. In 1983, there were 50 major media outlets, versus six since 2011. According to Jen Senko, director of the documentary film The Brainwashing of My Dad, “If you and I are to vote in a way to most benefit society and ourselves, we need truthful and unbiased information. Our democracy depends on it. As long as six corporations control the majority of U.S. media and broadcast divisive propaganda 24/7/365, we will continue to vote against our own interests and increase the scale of social injustice.”
These corporations, which have annual revenue in excess of $250 billion, control more than 90% of the media hundreds of millions of people read, hear, and see. While diverse sources compile the list of these media juggernauts differently, with companies like Google and DirectTV included at times, this article lists the six believed to be the best examples of a growing trend toward media monopolies. Their executives make decisions on what information you are given – what information is exaggerated or minimized or totally neglected, what information is accurate, and what is blatantly false. In other words, a very small group of people control what you hear, see, and read on a daily basis, as well as what you won’t.
If you still question how money, media, and politics work together to influence what you think and how you vote, check out what Les Moonves, CBS president just recently said about the Trump presidency: “Man, this is pretty amazing. Who would have thought this circus would come to town? It may not be good for America, but its damn good for CBS. [Laughs] The money’s rolling in … This is fun.” Profits over people, income over integrity, and cash over country – is what media executives boast today.
Luckily for the American people and the world, that wasn’t the case in 2002 when The Boston Globe, bravely and independently, exposed the Catholic Church for what their Priests had been doing to children for years. With the independence and competition newspapers had then, journalists covered stories with integrity and were able to devote the time to really investigate before they reported. Today, profits are paramount in making decisions in all corporations…and media corporations are no exception. Quick, easy stories prevail; true investigative journalism is much scarcer and has given way to repetitive mass media 24/7 that serves only a slice of society. I wonder if the story Spotlight that shined a light on the Catholic Church’s scandal would have even been covered if it happened today, rather than more than a decade ago.
The Top Six Corporations
Comcast was the biggest mega-conglomerate in 2012 and continues to be, with $62.5 billion in revenues and $6 billion in profit. The high revenue was a result of the FCC’s approval of Comcast’s takeover of a majority share of NBCUniversal from General Electric in 2011. This merger resulted in Comcast serving customers in 39 states and DC, and combined the nation’s largest cable company and residential Internet service provider with one of the world’s biggest producers of TV shows and motion pictures. Subsequently, Comcast manages NBC, Telemundo, USA Networks, SyFy, CNBC, Bravo, Oxygen, E!, the Golf Channel, Universal Pictures, Focus Features, to list a few. This media umbrella also contains Fandango, Universal Studios Florida, and Wells Fargo Center.
Disney has revenue of more than $42 billion with profits of around $5.5 billion. It maintains 27 television stations including ABC, ESPN, and Disney Channel Worldwide. They also control Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar, Miramar, and Marvel Studios. In the music arena the corporation has Walt Disney Records, Hollywood Records, Mammoth Records, and Buena Vista Records. Its ownership of Marvel Comics puts it in competition with Time Warner in the battle of super-hero motion pictures. In 2012, The Avengers grossed over $1 billion in box office receipts.
Time Warner, with $3.4 billion in profits, is the third largest entertainment conglomerate with ownership interests in film, television, and print. Among the chief properties it owns or has a major stake in are: CNN, HBO, TBS, TNT, Cartoon Network, Turner Classic Movies, Cinemax, HLN, CW Network, NBA TV, Español Time, and Warner Bros. In their print division, they own 22 magazines including People, Sports Illustrated, Time, Life, InStyle, Southern Living, Entertainment Weekly, and Fortune. Warner Brothers also directs Interactive Entertainment, DC Entertainment, and DC Comics.
Viacom is the fourth largest media conglomerate, with interests primarily in cable television networks, programming production, and distribution. It controls more than 160 networks reaching more than 600 million people around the globe. Its TV group virtually controls TV music with MTV, VH1, and CMT. They also own Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, TV Land, Spike TV, and BET. It has stakes in Lifetime, Lifetime Movie Network, the History Channel, and Biography Channel. Additionally its holdings include Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Games Group.
News-Corp, owned by Rupert Murdock, controls vast media venues globally. Its holdings include 27 TV stations including Fox Network, Fox News, and Fox International, National Geographic U.S., FX, FSN, STAR movies, ESPN Taiwan, and NGC Network Latin America. Fox News ranks first in cable news networks. In print, News-Corp’s acquisitions consist of the Wall Street Journal, The Times of London, New York Post, Barron’s and SmartMoney; additionally it boasts a book publisher HarperCollins; film production companies 20th Century Fox, Blue Sky Studios; and numerous websites including MarketWatch.com and the Dow Jones Newswire. Earning nearly $34 billion in revenue and more than $1.1 billion in profit, this massive holding enables Murdock to spread his brand of political, financial, and entertainment news, as well as printed manuscripts. Rather than a balanced version of events, the articles are often slanted to his conservative viewpoint. Unfortunately, that has become the new norm for many news and political shows – less journalistic integrity, more stories that increase ratings, enhance profits, or project a biased viewpoint.
CBS which operates in every field of media and entertainment, including 29 TV stations, 130 radio stations and publishing houses Simon & Schuster and Free Press. As the most watched television network, it generated more than $14 billion in revenue and $1.3 billion in profits. The company owns 50% of CW network and manages the properties of Showtime, Smithsonian Channel, and CBS Sports Network, as well as CBS Interactive, CBS Records, CBS Consumer Product (which licenses merchandise), CBS Home Entertainment that handles DVDs, and CBS films. In print, it fully owns mega-publishing house Simon & Schuster. On a rare positive note, unlike many mega-corporations, it also has a socially responsible component – EcoMedia.
Main references are listed below, but some individual annual reports, etc. were used as well:
http://www.freepress.net/blog/11/11/22/media-consolidation-illusion-choice ; http://www.businessinsider.com/these-6-corporations-control-90-of-the-media-in-america-2012-6; http://www.dailyinfographic.com/the-illusion-of-choice-infographic