FAQ: Media Ownership
Why does it matter who owns the media?
Who owns the media makes a huge difference. Americans depend on television and newspapers to learn about the news, understand local and national issues, and make informed choices. Today, six corporations control most of what you see on television. One company has gobbled up more than 1,000 radio stations across the nation. And since 1975, two-thirds of all independently owned newspapers have disappeared. Fewer owners mean that fewer pipelines are available to distribute diverse viewpoints and fewer voices are getting a chance to be heard.
There are many reasons why it is important to have diverse ownership of local media, but consider just a few examples. Assume that one company is allowed to own the dominant newspaper and one or two of the main television stations in your town. What if the company decides it wants to save money and combine newsrooms? Maybe the owner is friends with the mayor. What if there is corruption at city hall? Who would be left to investigate it? If you do not care much for politics, then imagine the same example with weather coverage. Suppose a local area experiences several tornadoes in a short period, but there's only one or two weather crews covering all the storms in the area. How would that affect the coverage of the storms?
How did all this media consolidation get started?
Early communications policy started out strongly in favor of preserving and ensuring diverse sources of information. Through a series of actions that spanned until the 1970s, the Federal Communications Commission ? the government agency responsible for media policy ? adopted rules that restricted the number of media outlets one company could own. By the beginning of the 1980s, however, the Reagan Administration, the FCC and Congress embarked on a deregulatory approach and began chipping away at the protections that ensured media diversity.
What's going on with the current media ownership fight?
In June 2003, the FCC voted to overturn most of the few remaining restrictions still in place on big media corporations. Among other things, the new rules would have allowed one company to own three TV stations, eight radio stations, and the monopoly newspaper in a single market. These media ownership rules have been largely struck down by a federal court. Currently, the FCC is rewriting the rules to comply with the court order, but it is not clear when this process will be completed.
What's the problem if one media company creates the programming and also owns the media outlet the programs are shown on?
Vertical integration is another way of describing when one media giant both produces programming and owns the outlets or networks on which the programming (or movies, or music or whatever content) is distributed. This is happening throughout the media world. Today, movie studios own television production operations and the cable systems they are distributed on. These companies then use cross promotion and market power to limit their offerings to more of what they produce themselves.
What's the creative community think about this?
Vertical integration definitely makes life hard for the independent producers to get their content on the air. Also, it explains why there is so much of the same fare on television and cable channels. While it makes economic sense to run your own programming produced by your studio, many creative artists would say that it does not foster creativity or competition.
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