Since the creation of the printing press, media has existed to serve the varying needs of the population, from entertainment to education. With the invention of the radio, the television, and now the internet, media has evolved to fit the most accessible format of the times, always to satisfy the universal human need for information and connection.
People rely on the media for facts and information about the world around them to stay aware and up to date. Then, they can process the information as they may, according to their world view. But what happens when the news media controls your world view? What happens when most of the media is controlled by only one perspective? This leaves the whole idea of the truth in uncertainty. What is the truth? Is it the most popularly held viewpoint, or is it the facts? In the end, we come back to the classic philosophical thought-experiment: "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” If no one knows about something, did it really happen? Does it matter?
Although with the rise of the internet, the age of mass media has peaked, the grip that major corporations have on the flow of information should not be overlooked. You may think that now, in the digitalized age, you have control over what feeds into your media consumption. You may have the illusion that you are an independent thinker and information seeker, but in reality, most “credible” content is controlled by six major media corporations. These are:
News Corp/Fox News
The fact that these corporations are so giant in their influence means that on some level, yes, they are held accountable. They can’t publish something that is completely false, and there are going to be some standards that they are held to for quality reporting.
How Did We Get Down to Only Six?
The structure of the media industry today is an oligopoly. Oligopoly is one step away from monopoly on the market spectrum, where a few corporations control the majority of the industry. In this case, only six media conglomerates control 90% of the media industry, and around 232 media executives control the information that reaches the American population. These corporations have a net worth of over 430 billion dollars.
Around 232 media executives control the information that reaches the American population.
This is due to media consolidation, mostly through mergers and acquisitions. Some notable instances of media consolidation include Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox in 2019 and AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner also in 2019.
Media consolidation has only increased in recent years and threatens to eliminate smaller journalists, local news, and alternative perspectives. In 2018, a study found that over 2,000 counties in the U.S. have no daily newspaper.
Fewer Companies Means Higher Risk of Corruption
This brings us the issue of media integrity. With the majority of the media under the control of a few corporations, it’s impossible to be objective when there’s only one accepted narrative that is expressed. Media consolidation decreases competition and brings with it a higher risk for corruption, making it harder to serve the public interest over the corporation’s own interests and political clients.
Massive media firms are also involved in businesses outside of journalism which can create conflict of interest. They will be less willing to cover controversies that happen in their other spheres of business. A real-life example happened in 1998, when Disney, which owns theme parks as well as many news outlets, stopped an investigative report of child abuse about a Disneyland childcare center from airing on ABC News. And this is just one of the few cases that got out.
In 2021, a study found that over 30% of editors experienced pressure of some sort from their parent company or board of directors. Furthermore, 29% self-censored because of the threat of “pressure from the top.”
These conflicting interests, or “interlocking directorates,” are more diverse and prevalent than you might imagine. For example, the following media agencies have ties to other companies in surprisingly unrelated industries.
ABC/Disney: Boeing, City National Bank, FedEx, Xerox
NBC/GE: Ann Taylor, Morgan Chase & Co., Dell Computer, Coca-Cola, Kellogg, Unilever
BS/Viacom: Amazon, Pfizer, CVS, Dell, Verizon, Honeywell
CNN/Time Warner: Citigroup, American Express, Chevron, Colgate-Palmolive, Hilton Hotels, PepsiCo, Sears, Pfizer
Fox/News Corp: Rothschild Investment Corporation, British Airways, New York Stock Exchange, Six Flags
The New York Times Co: Johnson & Johnson, Ford, Carlyle Group, Texaco, Campbell Soup, Metropolitan Life, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Hallmark Card
Washington Post/Newsweek: Berkshire Hathaway, Coca Cola, Gillette, Heinz, McDonalds, Union Pacific
WSJ/DOW Jones: Bank of East Asia, Callaway Golf, Ford, Pfizer, Shell, Hallmark Cards, Revlon
The good news is that although tech giants certainly try to censor it, the internet is much harder to control than the print news, the radio, or even television. So, it’s becoming harder and harder to maintain a standardized narrative, for better or for worse. With enough information, we can piece together a semblance of the truth.
Six tech giants control almost all the information that we consume about the world. These media giants control everything you see, hear, and learn content-wise.
As a consumer, it's of critical importance to be aware of the oligopolistic media ownership structure and how this creates bias in the media. You may want to supplement your news consumption with smaller, independent sources simply to evaluate more perspectives and come to a conclusion on your own. You can also look up a news source on allsides.com to check for media bias.
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