In 1983, fifty corporations controlled the vast majority of all news media in the United States. According to the book The Media Monopoly written by Ben Bagdikian and published in 1992, "in the U.S., fewer than two dozen of these companies own and operate ninety percent of the mass media" -- controlling almost all of America's newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations, books, records, movies, videos, wire services and photo agencies. When a new edition of The Media Monopoly was published in 2000, the number had fallen to six. Since 2000, there have been more mergers and Internet media has increased in importance. But, the Internet hasn't made the problem go away. In fact, more than one in five of all Internet users in the United Sates log in through America Online, a service of AOL Time-Warner, the world's largest media corporation.
Monopolization of the media has dangerous consequences for American society and culture.
In addition to AOL Time Warner, the largest media multinationals include Disney, General Electric, News Corporation, Viacom, Vivendi, Sony, Bertelsmann, AT&T and Liberty Media. Corporate censorship enabled by monopoly power involves cases that pit organizational interests against public interest principles. When corporate censorship contradicts journalistic standards and democratic ideals, it is not generally due to political motivations or aspirations for power, but rather the desire to most effectively pursue the primary goal of the corporation: profits. "Under AOL Time Warner, GE, Viacom et al., the news is, with a few exceptions, yet another version of the entertainment that the cartel also vends nonstop."
Censorship is inspired by fear of lawsuits by large corporations, the need for advertising dollars, and often the self-interest of the media company apart from outside influences. The following are some well-known examples of censorship:
In 1995, CBS's "60 Minutes" dropped an interview with an executive of Brown & Williamson Tobacco because the network was afraid of a potential lawsuit and because tobacco producers RJR Nabisco and Philip Morris were among the biggest advertisers on CBS.
In 1998, one of Newscorp's publishing holdings, HarperCollins, dropped plans to publish a memoir by Chris Patton, the last English governor of Hong Kong. Newscorp was attempting to expand its global satellite TV empire into China, and Patton's book criticized the Chinese government, potentially causing problems for Newscorp's profitable plans.
Time Warner executives tried to get a writer to kill an article critical of an official of the Federal Trade Commission. The F.T.C. was about to decide whether Time Warner could merge with Turner Broadcasting.
In 1998, reporters for WTVT, Fox's Tampa Bay affiliate discovered that supermarkets were selling milk produced with rBGH, a synthetic growth hormone developed by Monsanto linked with increased risk of cancer in humans. Worried about a possible lawsuit, management killed the story.
When Disney bought ABC/Capital Cities, the company that owned and distributed Jim Hightower's program via the ABC Radio Networks, it was not amused by his critiques of corporate America and Disney. In 1995, he criticized ABC for backing down and apologizing to tobacco companies in order to avoid a lawsuit, noting that ABC "had just merged with the Mickey Mouse empire of Disney, Inc." His popular program was cancelled.
While the media companies gain through censorship, society loses by not receiving the information they need to protect their health, their financial well being and their environment. They are also denied access to information that would enable them to make informed political choices.
Over the past century, censorship in the areas of environment and public health has increased for many reasons. First is the rise of powerful groups such as governments, corporations and professions with a vested interest in policies, practices or beliefs that are damaging to the environment or people's health. Second is the increased prominence of experts, such as scientists and doctors, with credibility due to their credentials and positions. Thus, there are more people to censor when they speak out against certain interests. Third is the rise of citizen movements that provide an audience for environmental and public health messages and a force that can sometimes challenge vested interests.
Corporations and governments both have incentives to prevent the release of information about their activities that damage health or the environment. Corporations such as those that produce chemicals, pharmaceuticals, cars or forest products often try to cover up unwelcome findings. Often, government bodies develop just as strong an interest in hiding the truth. For example, the massive nuclear disaster at Chelyabinsk in 1957 was covered up by the Soviet government for many years. And, full information about the Three Mile Island accident in the United States in 1979 was provided only to top Soviet managers. The involvement of the Central Intelligence Agency in the heroin trade in different parts of the world to finance undercover operations has been hidden by censorship and disguised by disinformation in the media.
Big government and big media corporations are becoming increasingly interdependent as illustrated the following quote from The Media Monopoly:
The history of Big Government and Big Corporations is more one of accomodation than of confrontation... [Nixon and Reagan] both made extraordinary moves to support corporate concentration and increased profit-taking in the media; newspaper publishers overwhelmingly endorsed both Nixon and Reagan for reelection, and while in office President Reagan received stunningly uncritical coverage by the Washington news corps."
Corporations use their power to soften the legal consequences of their actions and are protected by their special positions in government. Outside advisory committees sit with government leaders to help shape official actions. Because the positions on these advisory bodies are largely occupied by corporate staff, they can derail reform before it is implemented.
The media has many tools at its disposal for manipulating the way information consumers perceive a story including direct omission and suppression and outright lies. But, they also have more subtle techniques such as labeling to prefigure perceptions of a subject, face value transmission to avoid adequate confirmation of the facts, and false balancing to avoid giving equal representation for an issue. Perhaps the most effective propaganda method is the reliance on framing to bend the truth rather than breaking it by using emphasis and other embellishments. In this way, communicators can create an impression without resorting to explicit advocacy and without departing too far from the appearance of objectivity. "Framing is achieved in the way the news is packaged, the amount of exposure, the placement (front page or buried within, lead story or last), the tone of presentation (sympathetic or slighting), the headlines and photographs, and, in the case of broadcast media, the accompanying visual and auditory effects."
Television is perhaps one of the media's most powerful communications vehicles and also one of the most destructive. "The nearest analogy to the addictive power of television and the transformation of values that is wrought in the life of the heavy user is probably heroin."
An addiction does not need to be chemical; it can be a behavior that provides a pleasurable experience and than be repeated with little effort. When watching television, the right hemisphere of the brain is twice as active as the left, causing a surge of endorphins which is habit forming. In an experiment, 182 West Germans agreed to stop watching television for a year, with the added bonus of payment. However, none could resist the urge longer than six months, and over time all of the participants showed the symptoms of opiate-withdrawal: increased anxiety, frustration, and depression. The average American watches over four hours of television every day, and forty-nine percent continue to watch despite admitting to doing it excessively. "An addictive mind control device... what more could a government or profit-driven corporation ask for?
Television addiction is bad for many reasons. It is a medium whose primary purpose is to sell. The viewer is literally brainwashed with any message that the advertiser wants to send. The constant barrage of useless information viewed during the course of a week's worth of television is detrimental to the long0term mental health and social stability of society. Television can also be harmful to a person's sense of self-worth, environmental perceptions and physical health. Chronically watching actors and actresses with perfect appearances negatively impacts how individuals think about themselves. Television has produced a culture of fear with its focus on violent programming. And, television is bad for the body. Obesity, sleep deprivation, and stunted sensory development are all common among television addicts.
The increasing control of the media by a handful of corporations means that more and more it is they who control what the average American reads, sees, and hears..".. More than any other single private source and often more than any governmental source, the fifty dominant media corporations can set the national agenda." They tell the population not only what to think, but also what to think about. Unfortunately, there's a huge conflict of interest between what's in the best interest of media corporations and what's in the best interest of society.