A grand total of six mega-corporations control 90% of the media. News Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner, CBS and Comcast collectively own a vast majority of television and radio stations, movies, magazines and newspapers consumed by upwards of 277 million Americans. The flow of information to the public is controlled by media conglomerates worth billions of dollars who only report content that will generate more revenue. Professional journalism is dominated by corporate interests and driven by the pursuit of profit rather than truth.
The corporatization of media makes it nearly impossible for smaller outlets to survive. Local news publications and independent journalists lack the money and the platform necessary to reach the public. They are either bought out or forced into bankruptcy because they are unable to generate enough revenue. Even news outlets that are generally considered reputable such as The Washington Post, The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal are largely controlled by billionaires.
News coverage prioritizes views, clicks, engagement and profit-reaping over honest journalism that challenges powerful individuals and holds them accountable. There is a focus on sensational news coverage designed to boost ratings and readership. If a story is not dramatic enough to catch a viewer’s interest within a few seconds, it is deemed unnewsworthy. Stories that have real consequences around the globe and on people’s lives don’t make headlines because they aren’t considered profitable enough. This means there is a lack of dissenting voices and hardly any room for people to challenge the dominant narratives perpetuated by news media corporations.
Americans seem to pride themselves on the free press being a cornerstone of their democracy, but how can the press truly be free when it’s monopolized by giant corporations whose bottom line is making profit? News media has a powerful role in the way information is framed and relayed to the public, and their actions can have drastic consequences. The Iraq War immediately comes to mind, as major media corporations toed the government’s line and parroted their warmongering talking points uncritically. In the few months preceding the 2003 invasion of Iraq and subsequent occupation, nearly eight out of every 10 network TV commentators were government officials. Even while massive anti-war demonstrations were ongoing, protesters hardly accounted for one percent of statements from TV news.
Corporate media utterly failed to challenge the Bush administration’s lies and warmongering. Instead, they chose to promote the U.S. government’s policies because apparently war, terrorism and fearmongering are great tactics to attract viewers.
In 2018, former New York Times reporter James Risen revealed how editors, in their coverage of the War on Terror, willingly cooperated with the government to the point where the CIA would approve or deny stories for publication. Risen even detailed how his story on Afghanistan just prior to Sept. 11, 2001 was dropped because CIA Director George Tenet personally requested him to kill it.
For aspiring journalists, the corporate media environment is troubling. News outlets determine what stories to run and what information the public should know based on how profitable and sensational they are. They even kill stories on behalf of powerful interests, including government officials. Media companies are consolidating power with no accountability, utterly failing to live up to the principles behind journalistic integrity of truth, fairness, independence and accountability. There is a desperate need for independent voices in journalism that genuinely speak truth to power and do their duty in informing the public. Without them, the free press we value so much is merely a fantasy.
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Email Asha Ramachandran at [email protected]