The Harmful Effects of the Concentration of Media Ownership
There has been a tendency in the media world that companies merger into larger media giants in order to reach a better, more secure financial status and to constitute stronger firms. Hunt and Ruben highlighted another aspect to media company mergers. They say, the world had become one large marketplace and, as the investment jargon suggests, a few "players" dominate the distribution and the production of services and the goods in the world.(140) This is also true to the media business.
As the mass media offers huge and fruitful monetary opportunities, some of the most influential businessmen and investors dove into the media industry, forming huge media branches with concentrated ownership, like the Australian Rupert Murdoch, who became the strongest and richest media mogul of our time. By controlling such large percentages of the mass media, Murdoch has great power in his hands, which might mean certain dangers towards the public. In our modern society, the media enjoys enormous importance, since the overwhelming majority of the people familiarize themselves with current affairs, the happenings of their surroundings and the happenings around the world through the mass media. I strongly believe, that such concentration of media ownership, overall, is harmful to the public.
According to Dominick, the media system currently working in the United States of America and many European countries, (by now, most probably in most European countries), is a model with decentralized control and private ownership.(62) This model of course may seem better than a system of media supervised and controlled by a central power, probably by a government, as common, westward looking, sense dictates. This system gives the opportunity of exercising freedom of speech, and the accessibility to all materials and information, excluding of course information concerning homeland security. This seems fair and nice, but in reality, I believe, the system works a bit differently.
Since the moguls of media industry are virtually the owners of the mass media, they enjoy complete authority over their property, and authority over what their companies publish or broadcast. This is a power that can very easily be abused. Since for the owners of giant media branches, the mass media is just another field of financial opportunities, they usually customize their material in order to attract the largest audience, giving the opportunity of advertising on a huge scale. The money oriented nature of this kind of media ownership puts the quality of information published to the people under dispute. As Wilson pointed it out, a particular example of this phenomenon is Rupert Murdoch and his actions in the United States, where he purchased a number of newspapers, including the New York Post, and managed to turn them into papers publishing sensationalist articles in order to boost the selling. Wilson goes on saying that this demonstrates that Murdoch was not particularly interested in providing quality information and journalism to the public, but was more into making profit.(410) Consequently, the quality of the information declined in these papers, not informing the public properly.
Apart from the ethical question of the example above, it also raises issues concerning the response of the public to the sensationalist information. It is also possible that these articles may contain information that cannot be proven, or worse, not true at all. This may result in the misdirection of public opinion, and can lead to serious consequences.
Another important issue concerning the concentrated ownership of media chains is the question of objectivity on the side of the journalists. Since the resident Gods of the media chains have expectations of profit and ,in some cases, forming the overall opinion of the medium in crucial topics like politics or economy, there may be a multi-layered system of pressure in the hierarchy of the owners and workers of these firms, all concentrated on the journalist. The simple worker crumbles between the principles of objective journalism and the thoughts of the editor not letting their work to be published, or worse, losing their job. In the giant media chains owned by powerful media moguls, journalistic objectivity may be under pressure, so in this way the quality of information presented to the public may be biased, or faulty.
Conflict of interest can also be a major factor in the mass media, and within the media giants with centralised ownership, the phenomenon may exist on a considerable scale. Wilson brought up an example for this issue as well. He writes about a case in 1987 when a congressman from Kansas called for an order by the Congress to require General Electric, the second largest producer of defense weaponry of the United States, to sell its company owned television network, NBC. The congressman disputed how the television network could give an objective report about the Strategic Defense Initiative without having conflict of interest.(405) This example of Wilson highlights a very important issue concerning media chains, journalistic objectivity and the quality and quantity of information presented to the public. It is most probable, that a news agency - such as a chain of newspaper or a television network - cannot report objectively about the affairs of those businesses, in which they own corporate holdings, because such a situation would include heavy biasing, filtering information, and of course withholding information.
The very last point is the issue of the possibility of political bias of media giants. "Reliable Sources", a programme on CNN gave a short coverage on Rupert Murdoch and his appearance in an interview with Marwin Kalb, at George Washington University, in which Murdoch openly criticised his rival television networks, MSNBC and CNN. Murdoch said his rivals "tend to be Democrats" while his own network, Fox News "are not Republicans". Later on at the question and answer round of the interview, Murdoch said they have people at Fox News who are affiliated with the Democratic party, but when he was asked to name people, he struggled to name even one worker. Consequently the information output of Murdoch's network may be politically biased. When it comes to the effects of this sort of bias on the public, I believe it may be the most harmful. Political bias may result in dividing the public, may induce reactions from people who feel exposed or vulnerable, and may as well make people paranoid. I believe, that in some cases, this can be the aim of such enterprises motored by corporate power and driven by profit. For example in election time, the media support or attack of a certain political party has enormous force, and helps to bias and persuade the electorate.
In concluison, I strongly believe that the concentration of media ownership is harmful to the public, concerning the following points made. Firstly, the profit-oriented nature of media chains with concentrated ownership can affect the quality and quantity of information published to the people. Secondly, conflict of interest may be a major factor in information publishing by such media powers. Lastly, biasing, and namely politically biased information dissemination has large grounds in these chains.
Brendt, D. Ruben. and Hunt, T. Mass Communication: Producers and Consumers.
Harper Collins College Publishers, 1993. Print.
Dominick, J. R. The Dynamics of Mass Communication. McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, 1990. Print.
Wilson, S. L. Mass Media / Mass Culture: An Introduction McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1993. Print.
Reliable Sources Highlights Murdoch's Inability to Name a Democrat Employed by Fox News. "Media Matters for America" 11. April 2010. Web. 13. April 2010.