Academic Writing

Monday, August 29, 2011

Media Consolidation Today

Last year Comcast purchased NBC Universal for around $6.5 billion.
Google bought Morotola a few days ago for $12.5 billion.
Time Warner Cable says it will buy Insight Communications for $3 billion.

It seems to me that almost every day there is some grand announcement that another media company is being bought or sold. Therefore, the number of companies (and ultimately individuals) that hold the control over information and technology is shrinking.

Media consolidation has been a huge topic of conversation since media as an industry was invented. Think back to the newsreels of the 1930s and 1940s. They were owned by movie studios which had their own financial best interests in mind and therefore controlled the news audiences would see in their theaters. Despite being broken up by anti-trust laws, it seems as though we are reverting back to our old ways. BIG money gets spent buying and selling these companies, and it really becomes an issue as these companies are now charged with disseminating the news to consumers and educating them about their world while also answering to their corporate overlords.

Has the recent Murdoch/News Corp scandal taught us nothing? We now see firsthand the dangers that arise when one company, or one man, has too much power over controlling media. How are we allowing this to go on? When the Comcast/NBCU merger was being discussed in congress and the FCC, Senator Al Franken was one of the most vocal voices against the merger. A former actor and comedian who has worked directly in the television industry recognized just how much power one organization will hold over The People, and he didn’t like it one bit. To make matters more complicated, Comcast is also an internet provider which can control the speed at which people receive their news in the medium most are accessing it. This potentially gives them control to decide which neighborhoods, and thus demographics and populations, get their news faster and more efficiently that others.

Now, with Google and Motorola you thrown in technology and the Internet into the mix, people have less and less options of where to go to get what they want. When all this information is being provided by companies looking out for their best interest who wins? Definitely not the consumer. Now we get our news from the same parent company that brings us the Kardashian family. I work in this industry, (and, full disclosure, get my paycheck from NBCUniversal) and I know that yes, they are two separate departments run by very different teams with what likely adds up to opposite skill sets. However, that being said they still answer to the same bosses who have one giant financial spreadsheet.

The ironic fact that the people own the airwaves. Yup, they’re ours. That’s why if you bypass a cable box and plug your TV into the white coaxial cable that’s coming out of the wall in your apartment you’ll get all the broadcast channels.  It’s why the government gave out voucher for those set-top boxes that caused such a stir when television went digital a few years back. We have the right to free television. Ideally, the news that comes through on those sets should also be free from opinion, editorial commentary and corporate interests. Company party lines and News Directors will swear they keep the news objective, but sometimes with all this money changing hands and powerful executives putting it on the line for success, it’s sometimes hard to believe that will always be true.

Furthermore, it might be time to reconsider rating and selling ad time during the news the same way it is done for entertainment television.  This became evident to me as I wanted the news coverage of Hurricane Irene.  At least in New York, every network was trying to outdo the next and this was mainly accomplished by fear-mongering.  There's a fine line between providing necessary information to the public to ensure that they stay safe and take the precautions needed to heed the storm warnings and creating a sensationalist environment where people feel they need to stay tuned into the news channels or else they might miss some catastrophe.

I was disgusted watching the coverage of Hurricane Irene.  To start with, they send reporters out to the most dangerous areas that have had forced evacuations imposed on them.  One reporter on NY1 was driving around a Zone A area on Saturday night showing us just how empty the neighborhood was actually said, "I hope no police men are watching this."  Another reporter in Virginia was at a loss for words trying to comprehend how people could walking around and driving in the streets despite the repeated warnings.  How about they start setting the examples?  How can they expect people to take the necessary precautions when they don't set the standard?

Getting blown in the strong winds and sprayed by water does not actually give audiences new information.  Rather it continues this cycle of sensationalism in the news that is not actually helpful.  But, people watch that nonsense and it gets ratings, and ultimately benefits the aforementioned bottom line, so news stations won't stop doing it.  Of course there were a lot of ravaged neighborhoods and vital information did need to be shared, but the news far surpassed any sort of helpful information.  Furthermore, once the storm had passed, newscasters continued to implore with viewers that they should remain tuned in because something bad might be coming that they need to know about.  This is came across as a last ditch effort to keep viewers tuned in while knowing that there was not anything essential that they would need to be covering.  A stand must be made against this kind of "news reporting."  It's insulting to be pandered to like that and it's an embarrassment to journalism.

So what can we do about this?  Well, it's our responsibility as informed and engaged consumers to be aware of what's going on and to be vocal about our concerns.  When it comes to corporate interests, if mergers are being discussed that don't seem to overstepping their boundaries, write to your congresspeople.  Don't let big business get in the way of your human interests.  If there are stories in the news that aren't being covered with the objectivity that they deserve, write to your news station or newspaper.  And finally, do not stand for the kind of sensationalist journalism that has been coming our way for the sake of ratings.  Don't get sucked into the insanity that these so-called journalists are imposing on our airwaves and insist on accurate, informative and helpful news-sharing by your local, national and cable stations.

1 comment:

Judith said...

Good job DOJ!