Who Owns the Media?

Almost all media that citizens of the United States are exposed to comes from the same six sources. And when a few of the world’s wealthiest corporations control all of the news and commentary, only limited political perspectives will be disseminated. The United States, according to the 2016 World Press Freedom Report Index of Reporters Without Borders, ranks as only the 41st freest press in the world. (The USA has slipped to #48 in the 2019 rankings.) The US ranks behind Namibia, Surinam, Tonga, and Slovenia and just ahead of Botswana, Niger, Romania, and Haiti.

NOTE:  I had an infographic to show this but it kept getting removed.

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One thought on “Who Owns the Media?

  1. I feel that this item leaves out some important qualifying factors that reduce its shock value. First and most important, media sells information, and the economies of scale in selling information are enormous. The marginal cost of serving one more customer is almost zero. This creates huge benefits for consolidation of sources. Much of the consolidation in the media has been driven by these economies of scale and the competition they create for even greater consolidation. This is an industry that naturally tends towards monopolies; clearly, government anti-trust regulation is absolutely necessary for this industry.

    Second, let me point out that much of the consolidation took place in the newspaper industry. Hundreds of small-town newspapers have been acquired by large media groups. In most cases, they try to preserve the local flavor of the paper by leaving the editorial staff alone.

    There has also been an enormous amount of consolidation in web outlets. This is the natural result of the maturing of that industry.

    In mature industries, such as television and cinema, we have not seen anywhere near as much consolidation. It’s still going on, but in a highly creative industry, overbearing centralization tends to squash creativity.

    Moreover, we must differentiate between the unhealthy consequences of consolidated news sources and consolidated entertainment sources. What the hell is wrong with “Mrs. Robinson” being played 6 million times? Radio stations don’t cram music down the throats of unwilling listeners — the audience can always switch stations. Radio stations play what people want to hear. If audiences want to hear a lot of “Mrs. Robinson”, and the radio stations therefore play it a lot, that’s good!

    Indeed, there is one benefit from consolidation that we should not overlook. Larger firms can afford bigger-budget productions. HBO, Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu are all offering a huge array of diverse products, exploring a broad range of possibilities. We should appreciate that benefit of consolidation.

    Despite all of these qualifications, I share the author’s concern about increasing consolidation in ALL industries. It’s a problem in areas as disparate as mining, health care, steel-making, and integrated circuits.

    The solution is not to block all consolidation but to insure healthy competition, especially in terms of customer choice. Internet video is pretty competitive because it’s so easy to switch providers — so far. If one provider, such as Netflix or Amazon, corners too large a portion of the source material, then network effects could lead to an unhealthy loss of competition. So long as customers can easily switch suppliers, we’ll have plenty of competition. The danger comes when suppliers rig the market to rope customers into their schemes.

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