Media Consolidation: What Are the Effects?
In an earlier time, it was a fact of life in the television business that there were certain things that the local station or network did as a good corporate citizen - enforced, of course, by FCC regulations. Good, solid news reporting that was independent from the advertising department was one thing; the news department was not really expected to be profitable, but was carried by profit from the rest of the station or network. Quality children's programming was another expectation. Equal time for opposing viewpoints was another requirement.
These "good citizen" requirements have largely been swept away, and the maximization of profit has become the dominating force.
As a smaller number of "voices" dominate the marketplace, serious questions have arisen about the impact on democracy itself. Since most Americans get nearly all their news about the world from TV, and thus from these Big Ten companies, the concept of an "informed electorate" is called into question. Many surveys have revealed that Americans are very poorly informed about international and public policy issues. What happens when the corporations see fit to withhold news for corporate gain or strategy? What happens when several of the "Big Ten" want to push a particular candidate for office? Or oppose a candidate they see as a threat to their interests.
> Read more about the impact on democracy
Media companies respond that they dominate the market because they are popular with consumers, and they should not be penalized for being popular. They point out that internet radio stations, web sites, and so on have created a huge proliferation of "voices" in the marketplace. They speak of FCC regulations as violations of their free speech.
> What's wrong with the "Free Market" arguments
Over the last ten years, the massive consolidation of ownership has also resulted in:
Loss of independence of news departments --A complete demolition of the "Chinese wall" that once (at least in theory) existed between the news department and the advertising department.
News departments are expected to be profitable. No matter how much money the rest of a station or network is making, the news department is expected to show a profit or it faces cancellation. Many stations no longer have local news; the national news broadcasts of ABC, CBS, and NBC may be cancelled in the next few years.
News broadcasts rarely feature stories that contradict corporate positions and agenda. While the giant media companies were spending millions of dollars to lobby for deregulation, they very carefully kept news of the issue off their newscasts - and thus out of the public mind. Read more about it.
Reduced localism: local affiliates have always been allowed to refuse to carry network programming that they consider inappropriate for their local audience, and to buy syndicated programs from other suppliers. Networks want to own as many local stations as possible to eliminate this lack of control.
Reduced quality of local news: network-owned TV stations are more likely to rate a lower score (than locally-owned affiliates) for their local news broadcasts in reviews by groups like The Project for Excellence in Journalism http://www.changingchannels.org/news/news.php?id=17 Read about it.
"Homogenization" of programming. In the same way that every mall in every city has the same stores carrying the same products, you can tune into a Clear Channel radio station in Phoenix and hear the same music that the Clear Channel station in Milwaukee is playing. Sometimes the same announcer, too. Just try calling their request line!
Concentration of children's programming (and control of the children programming market) onto a few cable channels - Viacom-owned Nickelodeon, Disney, and AOL Time Warner's Cartoon Network. All three have shown an increasing disregard for the educational and emotional needs of younger children. PBS' children's programming remains the bright spot, but even there the overall changes in the marketplace have taken a terrible toll. Programs like Reading Rainbow face cancellation due to lack of funding. Read the story.
Children's programming has become regarded solely as a promotional tool for lines of toys. The effect of the marketing and programming content on children is mostly disregarded. Rude, aggressive, and negative behavior is often portrayed as normal and acceptable.
The accounting focus on cost-to-profit ratio has caused the networks to emphasize cheap programs (like Fear Factor and Survivor) that can predictably attract a younger audience. Because advertisers will pay more for "young eyeballs," networks have cancelled programs with huge ratings because they have older-skewing audiences. This practice has caused a huge loss of viewers in the 40+ age bracket, who no longer find anything they want to watch.
The formerly sacrosanct "Family Hour" has become a cesspool of questionable comedies that are mostly unacceptable for viewing with younger children. This has come up as a constant complaint in parent surveys; in a recent telephone survey, 64% of adults said that current network programming was not appropriate for family viewing.
Independent producers and syndicators are squeezed out of the marketplace - even when their programming is high quality and would find a substantial viewership.