Freedom News

Media consolidation

Jason de Souza examines the monopolisation of media and its effects.

Examining who owns and thereby controls the mass media is one of the most strident reminders that Western democracy is largely a farce that represents and serves hegemonic interests. It’s hardly a secret that the mass media have long wielded immense power, but their level of influence, control and impact has reached unprecedented levels, and this power is now concentrated in fewer hands than at any other time in modern history. 50 companies held sway over the US media in 1983. By 2006, that figure had fallen to less than 10. Today, a mere six corporations form 90% of the US media landscape. Even this paltry figure will likely dwindle even further in the coming years.

Five Hollywood film studios, which are in turn owned by the aforementioned six media giants, dominate film production and distribution across the planet. Similarly, three Western record labels have sown up most of the world’s music industry between them. Four Western news agencies provide the majority of the world’s global news reports. The concentration of such immense, powerful and vital resources into an ever-decreasing pool of hands has created a distorted plurality that’s essentially a diversity of uniformity. The consumer can choose from countless magazines, newspapers, radio and TV stations and video-on-demand websites, but ultimately, underneath the varied packaging, they’re nearly all carriers of near identical pro-establishment messages and themes.

These observations on media plurality and ownership make for sobering reading when we consider the ramifications for ensuring that the public have access to a free, fair and diverse press. A phenomenon is taking hold within our society of media monarchies, oligarchies, or dynasties where a handful of individuals possess the agency to decide what will be read, seen and heard by billions.

Consider that the following news organisations, the NYT Company, Viacom, Cox Enterprises, News Corp and Condé Nast, are all respectively controlled by families that enjoy cordial relationships with key figures amongst the political world, which enables them to exert sizeable influence in a variety of areas with far reaching consequences for the masses. In the case of News Corp, its founder Rupert Murdoch has used the power afforded to him by his omnipresent media empire to decisively sway public opinion by affording politicians and contenders with sycophancy or scorn accordingly in order to influence elections with an outcome that’s favourable to him and his allies.

Even outlets that are perceived as liberal or progressive routinely editorialise regime change against opponents of Western hegemony in the Global South and at home, smear anyone who offers policies that even mildly deviate from the entrenched neoliberal consensus that has come to personify supposed mainstream politics. There has even been a longstanding history of consensual complicity and cooperation between the U.S. media and the CIA, with journalists belonging to the former undertaking assignments or writing stories on behalf of the latter.

It should be no surprise that given these circumstances, we have a media landscape that, on the whole, doesn’t serve the interests of the general public and instead bombards them with reportage that obfuscates access to an accurate portrait of the wider world and, crucially, the discussion of tangible solutions to the challenges that ordinary people face daily and viable alternatives to the failed, bankrupt notion that life under capitalism, with varying degrees of suffering is the best result that we can ever expect. This is inevitable because it’s not in the interests of the hegemons who own and control the mass media (and their allies) for anything – or anyone who threatens the status quo to receive a full and fair hearing.

The Internet was once heralded as an opportunity to circumvent the filtering and gatekeeping associated with what’s now called “legacy” media, but this optimism was short-lived. Predictably, corporations swiftly moved to ensure that this new frontier of mass communication and information exchange would be consolidated and controlled—just as they would with any budding market.

YouTube – owned by Google, Facebook – owned by Meta and Twitter – owned by Elon Musk have also fallen victim to the ideological intersection of corporate censorship, shared hegemonic values, agendas and interests that plague legacy media.

Depending upon billionaire owned media organisations places us in a vulnerable and precarious position. We’re mandated to agree to terms and conditions that can suspend or terminate our accounts on spurious grounds, that even surrender away the ownership of our content – which can be deleted on a whim or because it offends one of their political or business allies. We need to develop channels of discourse that we own and control and can tailor accordingly to serve our interests instead of seeing corporations monetise and manage our militancy and desire to see real change emerge in society.

~ Jason de Souza

Image: Thomas Hawk / CC BY-NC 2.0 Deed

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