No News is Good News: An Investigation of Bias in the Media

Talia Rossi

Who are you getting your news from and how do you know if it’s true? Well in this day and age it is likely that most of your news is coming from an asset of one of six major media corporations. News Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner, CBS and Comcast own 90% of the media Americans consume. In contrast, in 1983 that 90% was owned by 50 companies.

Media companies are merging and consolidating at a faster rate than ever making it so an elite few control every piece of news we consume. Recently, General Electric sold their major asset NBC Universal to Comcast.  This put GE out of the media industry and made Comcast one of the major competitors giving it a cable monopoly over several cities. Less diversity in ownership of media means we are only seeing the viewpoints of those with the most power over the most assets such as Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp. Furthermore, this makes it easier for the media to control what the public hear about and to promote the corporate agenda. Many people agree that the Media should be working for the good of the people and for some that means giving them truthful and unbiased news. Fox News–owned by media conglomerate News Corp–is considered by many to reflect an extremely conservative ideology in its programming. News Corp’s chairman is Rupert Murdoch, known for his unscrupulous business practices and conservative politics. A study posted in the International Journal of Press/Politics shows that Fox News Casts were likely to mislead their viewer about climate change than MSNBC. The study states, “Fox News broadcasts were much more likely to include claims that challenged the scientific agreement on climate change than were broadcasts on MSNBC and CNN.” Although the bias presented by Fox News can be painfully obvious, they are still extremely profitable and have huge influence in the media. One example of Fox News’s influence is in the 2000 George W. Bush/Al Gore election. As the votes came in from Florida, Fox News reported a win for Bush even though the count was still much too close to call. Never wanting to be the last to report a big event, NBC, ABC, and CBS all picked up the story and started reporting that Bush won. In the documentary Outfoxed it is speculated that this false reporting many have influenced votes and decisions that led to Bush’s eventual win.

These corporations have a huge impact on how we think and how our system works. The Federal Communication Commission is the federal agency that regulates the business of media companies, and ensures that they are serving the public interest. However the Center for Public Integrity reports  , “The nation’s top broadcasters have met behind closed doors with Federal Communications Commission officials more than 70 times to discuss a sweeping set of proposals to relax media ownership rules.” The current FCC commissioner, Kevin Martin is considered to be very pro-market and on the side of the big media companies, putting public interest in second place.

However, there are groups and people working to keep the FCC responsible and promote what they consider media integrity. Media watchdog groups such as Media Access Project, Consumer’s Unionand Free Press, speak at their Meetings and provide accurate information about business in the media industry to the public. These groups act as advocates for the rights of consumers. They believe our current system relies on a balance between profitable media markets and trustworthy media. These groups have far less political influence than the big media companies they speak out against, but with the support of important Social Justice leaders like Rev. Jesse Jackson and the support of the consumers it advocates for, these organizations can be a competitive force when petitioning the FCC. As media has been consolidated, the number of women and minority groups in positions of power in the industry has dwindled significantly. It is evident that the percentages of Women and minorities that are in ownership of radio and TV licenses are vastly under representative of the general population.

According to Free Press, who make up 51% of the population, own only 7% of radio and TV licenses and people of color, who make up 36% of the population, own 7% of radio licenses. Furthermore there are now no full power television stations owned by African-Americans in this country. That is a decrease from 1.3% of stations in 2006. This leaves a large group of people unrepresented in the media. The increasing consolidation of media is cutting back the numbers of television and radio station owners, as well as making it increasingly difficult for small independent stations to survive. This results in pushing minorities and women out of the business and giving less of a chance for diverse viewpoints to be heard. Many women and minorities feel that they are not fairly and accurately depicted in the media because of their low representation in the industry.

Although many radio stations, television channels and newspapers claim to report non-partisan political news, it is evident that most of them lean either right or left of the center.  These biased political views present a threat to the integrity of democracy in America. Large media companies lavishly spend on lobbying in congress and political campaigns. According to a report released by the Center for Public Integrity, media companies donated $75 million dollars to candidates running for federal office. The Media companies’ political contributions and their claims of presenting unbiased news pose a conflict of interest. News presented by these companies is the main source of information about political candidates. If big media companies are able to express their biases through their news, they can easily manipulate the public opinion.

With the power to influence the public and the money to influence the government, the media has more than its fair share of power in our democratic system. With the increasing consolidation of media comes a decrease in reliable local news and funding for local news stations. Many local news channels are not considered as profitable for major media corporations, leading to major budget and staff cuts. In order to generate more profits local news television stations resort to “video news releases” or VNR’s. These are advertisements presented in the form of news. They appear as news to the viewer but involve no real journalism and are paid for by a company or corporation. Although it is illegal to present a VNR as objective news, the FCC’s lax enforcement allows many stations to escape prosecution. As Free Press states on their website,  “By disguising advertisements as news, stations violate both the spirit and the letter of their broadcast licenses, which obligate them to use the airwaves to serve the public.” Free Press feels that when there is no way for the public to decipher between news and advertisement, we know that the integrity of journalism is seriously compromised.

Today, big companies continue to lobby for relaxations of FCC regulations so they can continue to consolidate while consumer advocacy groups continue to take action to stop them. The growth of the Internet has changed to landscape of the media industry significantly as well. With the emergence of independent online sources the media industry is starting to feel the pressure to change. If consumers want to fight consolidation in the media, be aware of where they are getting their information and motives behind their sources.

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