Government Technology

Opinion: Media Mergers Threaten Community News

Protecting Community Media
Opinion: Media Mergers Threaten Community News

October 24, 2008 By

The U.S. federal government's media ownership policies have tremendous impact on the community media that has traditionally played an important role in fostering community awareness and involvement.

The past 20 years have seen an unprecedented number of media mergers among TV, radio, film, publishing and online holdings. An oligopoly has emerged in which six massive corporations control enormous numbers of media outlets. In 2006, combined revenues from these companies were greater than many countries' economies - even individually, the economic might is daunting. These companies include:

Viacom ($11.5 billion revenue) owns Atom Entertainment, BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, VH1, Paramount Pictures, Paramount Home Entertainment, publishing company Famous Music, music game developer Harmonix, and 18 joint ventures with Indian media company Global Broadcast News.

CBS Corp. ($14.3 billion revenue) owns the CBS Television Distribution Group, CBS Television Network, Showtime, Simon & Schuster book publishers, 27 TV stations, CBS Radio Inc. and its 140 stations across the country, and jointly owns The CW television network with Time Warner.

News Corp. ($25.3 billion revenue) controls the Fox Broadcasting Co., including TV and cable networks, such as Fox, Fox Business Channel, National Geographic and FX; 35 TV stations; print publications, including The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, TV Guide and the magazines Barron's and SmartMoney; HarperCollins book publishing; film production companies Blue Sky Studios, Fox Searchlight Pictures and 20th Century Fox; and other Web holdings; and nonmedia holdings, including the National Rugby League.

Walt Disney Co. ($34.3 billion revenue) owns TV stations ABC, A&E, ESPN, the Disney Channel, Lifetime, SOAPnet; 227 radio stations; multiple music and book publishing companies; media production companies Miramax, Touchstone, Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios; the cellular service Disney Mobile; and numerous theme parks.

Time Warner ($44.2 billion revenue) owns AOL, Cartoon Network, Cinemax, CNN, The CW (a joint venture with CBS), HBO, MapQuest, Moviefone, Netscape, TBS, TNT, Warner Bros. Pictures, Castle Rock Entertainment and New Line Cinema, and more than 150 magazines, including Time, Cooking Light, Marie Claire and People. Time Warner Cable also controls roughly 20 percent of all cable broadband subscribers and increased its subscriber base by 3.5 million, to roughly 15 million total, with its acquisition of Adelphia with Comcast.

General Electric ($164.3 billion revenue) has media-related holdings including Bravo and the Sci Fi channels, Focus Features, MSNBC, TV networks NBC and Telemundo, Universal Pictures, and 26 additional U.S. TV stations.

In opposition to these massive media conglomerates is a growing coalition of civil rights, public interest, consumer and local media organizations. According to Ben Scott, policy director of media reform organization Free Press, media conglomeration isn't a left-right political issue. "It unites a wide variety of organizations concerned about the impact of concentrated media on the diversity of opinion a democracy requires," he said. In addition to the usual suspects expected to join a fight against Big Media (e.g., Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Free Press, Independent Press Association, National Federation of Community Broadcasters), other nontraditional allies are emerging: the American Federation of Musicians, the National Council of Churches, RainbowPUSH and the National Hispanic Media Coalition.

They've all joined together for the Stop Big Media campaign The only requirement to joining the campaign is agreement with the coalition's principles. The campaign's core element is a belief that "a free and vibrant media full of diverse, local and competing voices is the lifeblood of America's democracy." The campaign's straightforward goal is to "ensure that our media system is, in the words of the Supreme Court, 'an uninhibited marketplace of ideas in which truth will prevail.'" To that end, Stop Big Media focuses on advocacy efforts aimed at the FCC and Congress.

At its heart, Stop Big Media focuses attention on the stark outcomes of media conglomeration. As a

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