Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Corporate Control of the News

Hi everyone,

As I mentioned on Monday, there is definitely some evidence of corporate heads dictating the terms of what is to be put on the page.

Edward Herman, professor emeritus of finance at the Wharton School of Business of the University of Pennsylvania, cites some of the most prominent examples of corporate influence in what gets put on the news in this interview in 1993:

When we talk about media ownership and control, we're talking about the ownership and control by very wealthy people who have interlocking directorships with many corporations. Now, very often they don't intervene in a grow way, but, for example, Larry Grossman, who was president of NBC, in his autobiography, mentions that the GE chairman of the board, Jack Welch, pointed to him and said, "Remember you work for General Electric Corporation."
Herman also points out the way in which "hands-on owner" Rupert Murdoch deliberately and intentionally molds what his media empire reports on. Herman points out how Murdoch paradoxically supported Labour Party candidate Tony Blair over his conservative opponents. Unsurprisingly enough, all or most of Murdoch's papers endorsed Blair. Herman notes:
Part of the reason for that was that, surprisingly enough, the Conservative Party had proposed some limit on a concentration in the British media and Murdcoh was reportedly furious at this. 
Herman and his co-author, MIT linguistics professor and public intellectual Noam Chomsky, list many more examples of this nature in their groundbreaking work, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. In the book, the authors analyze the media under the "propaganda model"—a conceptual model that "seeks to explain how populations are manipulated and how consent for economic, social and political policies is 'manufactured' in the public mind due to this propaganda model."

Herman and Chomsky divide the model  into five filters that weed out unwanted media:

  1. Ownership: "Since mainstream media outlets are [part of] conglomerates, the information presented to the public will be biased with respect to these interests." Furthermore, the profit-seeking imperative of media outlets inherently creates a need for consumers which, as has been pointed out in class, like to be entertained as they're told what they want to hear.
  2. Funding: From Wiki, "the theory argues that the people buying the newspaper are the product which is sold to the businesses that buy advertising space; the news has only a marginal role as the product."
  3. Sourcing: According to HC, "The mass media are drawn into a symbiotic relationship with powerful sources of information by economic necessity and reciprocity of interest." In other words, journalists live off of what press secretaries and PR firms give them, meaning that any offense towards these powerful institutions could risk loosing the media's life-blood: fresh news (an example of this can be seen in House of Cards, S3 E4). This makes the media less inclined to publish stories that will anger their suppliers of information.
  4. Flak: News media organizations are susceptible to public opinion, meaning that they can be easily swayed to censor their news depending upon their consumer base. Corporate power also morphs itself into creating flak machines, such as the Global Climate Coalition, started up by PR firm Burson-Marsteller and made up of Texaco, Ford and the like.
  5. Fear: Originally, HC referred to this filter as 'anti-communism:' stories that demonized the USSR and the left as a whole were sensationalized or given more attention to than similar atrocities committed by the right and/or U.S. allies throughout the 1980s. In a revised edition, HC replace anti-communism with 'the War on Terror,' which mislead the public on Iraq leading up to the occupation.
It would be a mistake to characterize HC's arguments as applying to the media landscape equally. Instead, both have said that the media "is not a solid monolith" but that it represents a debate between powerful interests while ignoring perspectives that challenge the "fundamental premises" of all these interests.

The wiki article on the book covers many of the specifics, and I can bring up some that I remember from reading it a year a go.

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