Wednesday, May 14, 2003

The Media Monopoly

An interview with Ben Bagdikian, author of The Media Monopoly:
When "The Media Monopoly" first appeared in 1983, Bagdikian was alarmed that more than half of the media outlets in this country were controlled by 50 corporations. By the 1997 edition of his book, that number had dropped to 10. Today it stands at six (AOL Time Warner, Viacom, News Corp., Disney, General Electric and Bertelsmann).

The result is a landscape of media giants whose political clout in Washington should raise alarm about their collective power as well as concerns about the independent watchdog role that the news media play in covering the federal government, he says.

Bagdikian recalls the high-minded promises made by the architects of the AOL Time Warner merger two years ago that the union would not affect news coverage and would offer customers more content choices, not fewer.

"I know that speech by heart," he says. "It's made by every large corporate leader, but it's just not true. News almost never escapes shareholders' demands for maximum profits. As for promises not to interfere in the editorial process, when the stakes are high enough, there always is an intrusion. We've seen it with Disney clamping down on dissident voices and hard-nosed journalism, and we will see it at AOL Time Warner."

While the corporate honchos talk about synergy, Bagdikian says, customers get shortchanged by the incredible shrinking diversity of content. Remember the AOL Time Warner executive at the top who sang the praises of reduced duplication of effort in covering events like the Oscars? That's exactly what worries Bagdikian.

"Ultimately, what you're talking about is fewer choices, fewer journalists in the field, fewer foreign news bureaus, fewer news stories, fewer programming choices available," he says. "Diversity of channels does not give you diversity of content. You really need diversity of outlets to find a true diversity of voices and points of view."

This entire article from the USC Annenberg Online Journalism Review is great and full of insights, and well worth your perusal.