It is very telling that mass media today is often referred to as a "media industry." This term implies that mass media is no longer concerned with merely relaying information to the general public. Instead, media is engaged in producing a product, akin to industries such as manufacturing.
This paper examines the media industry from the production perspective. It looks at how news coverage is itself a manufactured product, a result of specific corporate interests. While "mass media" itself is a broad term, this paper focuses specifically on broadcast and print news coverage, a part of media that is supposed to be tailored to the public interests.
The first part of this paper looks at the concentration of media interests. In a democracy, the competing individual news outfits are supposed to act as independent checks and balances. However, the concentration of media ownership into a few corporate giants has significant effects on which information gets investigated and disseminated to the public.
The next part of the paper then looks at the results of this media concentration, in terms of homogenized and generic news. It argues that the influence of corporate media over news has resulted in gatekeeping and censorship. As a result, news that is favorable to parent companies gets priority over more important events. In many cases, news that conflicts with the interests of corporate owners does not get covered at all.
Media concentration and ownership
Sociologists have argues that the ownership of media is getting more and more "centralized." This means that through corporate mergers and acquisitions, individual media companies are growing into conglomerates, and becoming increasingly allied with the corporate interests of their parent companies.
Viacom, for example, is one of the largest global media empires. According to the Columbia Journalism review, the Viacom dynasty includes CBS network, cable television outfits such as MTV, movie studios like Paramount Pictures and publishers like Simon & Schuster ("Who owns what"). This wide swatch ensures profitability for the Viacom conglomerate, since the media giant is able to pull in a television, movie and reader crowd of different ages.
Another example is General Electric, a company that does not immediately evoke the media. However, GE owns 80% of NBC Universal, the Spanish Telemundo television stations, Universal Pictures and 30% of Paxson Communications, in addition to cable networks like USA, Trio, Bravo and the Sci-Fi Channel ("Who owns what").
Even traditional and respected "print" media like the New York Times are steadily marching to media conglomerate status. The New York Times itself is a parent company, owning other newspapers ranging from the Boston Globe in Massachusetts to The Tuscaloosa News in Alabama. The New York Times also owns 50% of the Discovery Channel, a host of television stations and two radio networks ("Who owns what").
Statistics have shown that television remains the greatest source of news and information for a majority of Americans. Newspapers are a far second (Jackman). This data further underscores the importance of a strong presence in the network television and print newspaper market.
As a result, researchers like John Jackman have argued that instead of the "marketplace of ideas" that should proliferate in a democracy, American media is becoming increasingly dominated by a few strong voices. This places them in a strong position to influence public opinion. Perhaps it is also no coincidence that many other surveys have shown that many Americans remain uninformed about many public policy and international issues (Jackman).
Effects of media ownership
Several studies have been done to assess how much influence these corporate ties have on news coverage and by extension, on democracy. After all, a free and independent media is a cornerstone of a democratic society. The mass media is an important source of information, an institution that should ensure an enlightened citizenry.
Unfortunately, the concentration of media ownership is eroding this important function of the media.
One result can be seen in the homogenization of news coverage. Despite the plethora of news programs in different networks and the number of city-based newspapers, much of the news coverage remains the same. This is because these disparate media outlets are often owned by only a few parent companies. As a result, news and information can be "produced" in one centralized office and distributed to its various affiliates.
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