Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Media Concentration and its Effects

When I was in J-school in the early 1990s, one of the topics of discussion was media concentration, its effects both in Canada where I reside, and worldwide. The major consensus from students and professors was that media concentration was mainly negative, both for journalists and the public they serve.

Some of the disadvantages cited included corporate-fed and -led journalism, poor local coverage, lay-offs of editorial staff, and more standardized and sanitized news stories. In short, media concentration results in poor journalism, because there are less journalists working, and those that remain are are under increasing pressure to get the story out by deadline.

Media concentration and self-censorship
But, perhaps more important, is the increasing issue of self-censorship. This becomes more pronounced in direct proportion to the putative power wielded by owners. Consider the following article from FAIR about conditions in Canadian newsrooms after CanWest  Global bought Hollinger 2000 for $3.2 billion, then the largest media deal in Canada: As the article states, journalists faced new working conditions and were often censored for offending the corporate masters. Consider the following:
Stephen Kimber, a columnist for 15 years with the Halifax Daily News, quit in January after his column was killed by corporate headquarters. Kimber wrote in the column, which was eventually published in the Globe and Mail (1/7/02), that CanWest’s owners, Winnipeg’s Asper family, which made its fortune in the television business, appear to consider their newspapers not only as profit centers and promotional vehicles for their television network but also as private, personal pulpits from which to express their views.
 The Aspers support the federal Liberal Party. They're pro-Israel. They think rich people like themselves deserve tax breaks. They support privatizing healthcare delivery. And they believe their newspapers ... should agree with them.
Eventually the Asper family eventually lost control of their newspapers, after they generated too much debt, and were sold for $1.1 billion to a group led by Paul Godfrey in May 2010 (see CanWest's papers sold for $1.1 billion.)  One hopes that working conditions for journalists will change under new ownership.

It becomes increasingly difficult for journalists to do their job, particularly in criticizing large corporations (like advertisers), governments and powerful and wealthy individuals when large corporations are at the helm. It's akin to letting the fox run the hen-house. The net result is that the public is not well-served.

If the news is self-censored by journalists, not so much because of libel chill, but because of corporate chill (fear of losing their jobs being the chief motivator), then the news become sanitized, standardized and dull. We see much evidence of that today. Consider the following posting on the dangers of media concentration from the blog,
Of course, expecting the private media to turn a critical spotlight on themselves is like expecting a doped athlete to draw attention to the problem of doping in sports.
This highlights an important problem. If the wealthy, corporate-owned private media don't consider something an issue, we tend not to hear about it.
We don't hear much, for instance, about the growing gap between rich and poor, the erosion of our social programs or foreign domination of our economy.
Which is why the CBC — the only network owned by the Canadian public, not by powerful corporations — could be so important.
The public responds
As can be the Web, which has opened journalism to the world. The Web is proving to be a great venue for people to find news, often not reported or under-reported, by the large mainstream news outlets. In that way, both professional journalists (like myself) and others report stories that large news outlets are not reporting.

In such a fashion, Citizen Journalism is acting as a countervailing force to the mainstream press. And with some good results. As Laura Riggio writes in her blog, Media Crit:
Today, blogs are more popular than ever and some blogs are considered news sources to many people who get their news on the internet.
A PEW Internet study in 2006 found that 73 percent of all internet users get their news from the internet. Eight percent of internet users, or about 12 million American adults, keep a blog and 39 percent or about 57 million American adults read blogs. Whether reading or writing, blogs are part of American life and this is only increasing.
Blogs have become a right-correcting mechanism to media concentration. That might be good for journalistic integrity, freedom and democracy.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Perry,

    A quick note to wish you much success in your new blogging endeavor. Hoping that you'll enjoy your experience in the blogosphere.




Comment Policy:

All comments will be moderated; and bear in mind that anonymous, hostile, vulgar and off-topic comments will not be published. Thoughtful, reasonable and clear comments, bearing your real name, will be. All comments must be in English.