Thursday, September 24, 2020

Truth and Control in the Fourth Estate

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Television, movies, magazines and radio are the tools by which the public is informed of the news from the world aboard. Ben Bagdikian of the University of California, Berkeley, has written that some of the largest corporations in the world General Electric, Disney, Time Warner, Westinghouse now own distribution and control of what the American public sees in all forms of media (Hazen ). Two of these companies are defense contractors involved in nuclear power production, and the others are entertainment manufacturers. Being owned by Disney, it is unlikely that ABC will do another PrimeTime Live episode that airs the practices of Disney, or that NBC will ever have negative news coverage of the nuclear power industry, as it is owned by General Electric (Edwards 1). When there is no diversity of ownership across the news media or any media, the public will receive a very biased view of world events.

In 16 under the Bill Clinton administration, Congress passed the Telecommunications Act. This act removed the many tiers of regulation in the telecommunications industry and opened the industry to an essentially unfettered free market. Under the Telecommunications Act TV networks could now go from owning 5 percent of the nation's TV market to owning 5 percent, and local phone companies could buy out local cable companies. The act caused ABC to be bought by Disney, CBS to be bought by Westinghouse, and Ted Turner's media empire to become part of Time Warner (Hazen 6). With these mergers came some hints of how the new proprietors would use their journalists Disney's ABC News apologized to Philip Morris for having told the truth on a broadcast of Day One, about the company's manipulation of nicotine levels in its cigarettes; and CBS's 60 Minutes was instructed to bury an explosive interview with the whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand about the studies on addictive properties of tobacco by producer Brown and Williamson (Downing and Ali Sreberny-Mohammadi 57). According to the Tyndall Report, a newsletter that tracks the amount of time nightly network newscasts devote to various issues, neither the passage nor the signing of the most sweeping telecommunications legislation in 60 years, the Telecommunications Act of 16, made the top 10 stories in their respective weeks (Hazen 8).

Supporters for the Telecommunication Act of 16 praised the bill as beneficial to the public at large. It would lower prices and improve service, they claimed, by allowing the giant conglomerates of the telecommunications industry to compete with one another. However, the law was not created with the consumer in mind. According to Jim Naureckas, the editor of Extra Magazine, the bill was bought and paid for by the very telecommunications conglomerates the bill was suppose to control (Patterson 15). Far from mandating competition among telecommunications companies, the act encourages already huge corporations to pursue further mergers and allows businesses to form alliances with their supposed rivals in other sectors, reducing the risk that new products will provide consumers with a meaningful choice (Hazen 4). CBS, whose new owner Westinghouse, already had stations of its own, needed this bill passed so the limit would be raised on ownership, just to avoid having to sell off stations.

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The public can no longer depend on the media as a source of biased-free news coverage. Burying and selling stories at the request of advertisers and ownership has become common place. Dean Singleton, owner of fifty daily newspapers with a total circulation on .1 million, has admitted to selling and burying news articles at the request of major advertisers. Singleton has defended this by saying, "This is just how business is done" (Sherman 54). When media monopolies, such as General Electric, control all the sources of media within a community, they can declare their own blackout of news that they do not want the public to see. Walter Cronkite, a famous news broadcaster has said on the subject of media monopolies, "...they can twist the news any way they please, and there's no monitor. There's nobody to say don't. Nobody to say, hey wait a minute, folks, you're not getting the truth" (Hazen 6). This situation now exists because the media industry is not an industry supplying a public service as it once was suppose to be. The media industry is now only concerned with making a profit.

Television broadcasters in the United States are required to do little in the way of public service. There are no government regulations to encourage quality, diversity, innovation, or educational value in programming. This has given rise to the expression of, "100 stations and nothing on." The only thing a station is regulated by is its advertisers. Advertising is the foundation and economic lifeblood of mass media. Advertising has helped to establish cultural patterns though television stations and radio. These stations are now reluctant to deviate from these cultural patterns and the programming that set them for fear of losing their advertising revenue. This has created an environment where the television networks are not concerned with what the public wants to see, but what their advertisers want the public to see. The very nature of advertising is to cover the truth under a positive image.

Since advertising controls what consumers buy in stores, the larger corporations want to control the media by which advertising reaches consumers. These huge conglomerates realize that advertising is a 170-billion-dollar-a-year industry, and, since it is largely their own products and services that need to be advertised, why not own the advertising industry (Sardar 1)? This business strategy was made possible by the Telecommunications Act of 16, which was made possible by the politicians who need advertising space and "good press" to get elected. With the passing of this act, politicians gave the media companies what they wanted to ensure positive coverage for themselves. Now more and more media conglomerates are gaining control of both the content what you see and hear, such as movies, videos, cable channels, and television shows and the conduit -- how the images get to you, such as television station, cable companies, movie studios and record studios (Hazen 84).

It was small wonder that politicians, out of fear of the media companies, have given them free reign. Media companies can make or break a politician, because they control the way politicians can reach or not reach the public. Media companies can simply not give a politician much space in magazines or on TV talk shows. They can also play up every negative thing they can find out. This means that media power is political power -- especially true when media companies give a huge amount in PAC contributions. With the media conglomerates having such strong control over policy making, there is little chance that the public will see any change in the way things are. There is little chance that the public will see anything but what the mass media corporations will want them to see.

Works Cited

Sherman, Scott. "The Evolution of Dean Singleton." Columbia Journalism Review. (March/April 00) 5 FirstSearch on LINCCWeb. Central Florida Community Coll. Lib., Ocala. 10 June 00 http//

Edwards, David. "Can we learn the truth about the environment from the media?" The Ecologist (Jan. Feb. 18) v.8 no1 p. 18-. WilsonSelectPlus. FirstSearch on LINCCWeb. Central Florida Community Coll. Lib., Ocala. 10 June 00 http//

Hazen, Don. We the Media. New York The New Press, 17

Downing, John Mohammadi, Ali Sreberny-Mohammadi, Annabelle. Questioning the Media.New York Sage Publications, Inc., 15

Patterson, Philip Wilkins, Lee. Media Ethics Issues&Cases. New York McGraw-Hill, 17

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