Why are corporate media untrustworthy?

corporate media consolidation
Five corporations control the majority of U.S. media

Why do we need to distinguish between independent news sources and the corporate media? Aren’t large news organizations adhering to the basic standards of journalism, presenting “both sides” of the issues? Aren’t they just reporting the facts?

Corporate media have a measurable, disguised viewpoint

Nearly all of the most powerful news outlets owned by large corporations present themselves as having a neutral, objective point of view. But true objectivity does not exist, and in a world where millions are engaged in a struggle for justice, those claiming to be neutral are actually supporting the status quo.

The corporate media do not announce their viewpoint, but luckily it is easy to measure. The simplest way to do this is to pick a media outlet, a certain issue in the news, and a time frame, and add up the column inches or broadcast minutes that are devoted to promoting a certain perspective. In this way it has been demonstrated that the corporate media as a whole promote a pro-war, pro-corporate viewpoint that is politically conservative or centrist.

One of the most thorough analyses of media viewpoint is the 1988 book Manufacturing Consent by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky. They show that the U.S. media follow a propaganda model of support for U.S. wars and corporate interests, due to their consolidated corporate ownership, their for-profit business model of selling affluent audiences to big advertisers, and their reliance on corporate and government sources for news.

The organization Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) has been documenting the perspective of the corporate media since 1986. FAIR has done essential work like detailing how the U.S. corporate media uncritically published lies about Iraq while downplaying citizen opposition to war in the lead-up to the 2003 U.S. invasion.

Citizens can do the work of exposing the corporate media themselves. In 2000, my colleague Eamon Martin and I became frustrated with the distortions we saw in media coverage of Colombia, at a time when the U.S. was funding the Colombian military, which was committing atrocities including massacres of children. We published an analysis of the way our local corporate daily newspaper largely ignored these crimes, while emphasizing attacks by rebel groups fighting the Colombian government, during the month of August, 2000.

Every publication has a viewpoint, and when the publishers, editors, and writers are honest about where they are coming from, we have no quarrel. A thriving democratic society should have a multitude of perspectives expressed through a variety of media. The false assertion of objectivity or neutrality is one of the things that makes the corporate media so dangerous. The other is consolidation.

Corporate media have consolidated to an alarming degree

In 1983, Ben Bagdikian published The Media Monopoly, showing that corporate media consolidation had resulted in just 50 corporations controlling most of the media consumed in the U.S. By the time The New Media Monopoly was published in 2004, the majority of what we read, watch, and listen to was controlled by just five companies: AT&T, Comcast, The Walt Disney Company, ViacomCBS, and Fox Corporation.

Corporate consolidation and its chilling effect on the free exchange of ideas are often disguised, because news outlets like to emphasize their connection to the local community, not their corporate ownership. But large companies often give direct orders for local journalists to articulate a certain viewpoint. As just one example, Sinclair Broadcast Group, a publicly traded company controlled by a single family, owns 193 television stations. Sinclair exercises tight control over local newsrooms, distributing “must-run” segments from a conservative viewpoint that local broadcasters are required to air, often mandating that local anchors introduce these segments with the same speech. In one such “forced read” in March 2018, dozens of local anchors repeated the same ironic warning: “Some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias. This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.”

It is not surprising that big corporations would seek to grow ever larger by purchasing more and more media outlets, because the industry was historically very profitable. Newspapers were once considered a license to print money, even more so when consolidation resulted in local monopolies, with many cities having only one daily newspaper. When the advent of the Internet led to a decline in advertising revenue for print newspapers, their corporate owners reacted by drastically cutting newsroom staff, eroding the public’s access to information. Coverage of state legislatures and city governments was particularly hard hit. With fewer working reporters, a deterrence to government corruption has been diminished.

This is the moment for independent, nonprofit journalism

In the past, the for-profit journalism model produced a variety of news publications representing many different points of view. Today, we live in a world where most of our media are owned by just five corporations. These companies produce an enormous quantity of entertainment, and a limited amount of journalism, which consistently promotes the status quo while feigning neutrality. Real journalism performs a watchdog function, exposing corruption and the crimes of the powerful. This type of reporting is a public good, which communities must now provide for themselves. Now that journalism is no longer as profitable as it once was, and the for-profit sector is an oligopoly, it is time for the people to step in and form our own institutions to do the important work of publicizing what is happening in the world — in the corridors of power, and in the streets. Our news media are being rebuilt, with nonprofit structures, funded by readers, making no apology for a strong social justice viewpoint.

Get involved!

The new media movement is democratic and participatory. Your help is needed. One of the most important things we can do is stop supporting corporate media with page views, social media links, subscription funds, and advertising dollars. This website is intended to help make it easy to get the news you need without resorting to the corporate media. All of the sources linked on this website deserve your support. Please donate to your favorite nonprofit news organizations. Help expose the corporate media by spreading the word about their most egregious offenses. And promote independent news sources by sharing them with your fellow citizens.

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