Last week, I was reading newspaper articles online, researching for an essay. The teacher wanted us to have insight into different perspectives in order to form a more complete understanding, so I browsed through many different sources. When I discovered that the majority of the media is controlled by just six conglomerates, I was shocked. All the research I had done was most likely coming from just six viewpoints. How could I build a nuanced understanding?
At the present time, a shocking 90 percent of the US media is controlled by just six media conglomerates. What does this mean? When we think of new outlets, we probably don’t feel restricted in terms of consumer choice. From Cable News Network (CNN) to Microsoft National Broadcasting Company (MSNBC) and Fox News to Brietbart, Americans have the illusion of options across the political spectrum when it comes to news sources. However, that original statistic proves that any perceived diversity amongst large media outlets is only an illusion, as the majority of them are owned by one of only six different entities. This is a major issue for the American people, and for the trajectory of American democracy. The concentration of media ownership reduces the diversity of viewpoints and creates a potential conflict of interest, the risk of bias, and even the suppression of information that is at odds with the economic or political interests of the parent corporation.
The variety of media ownership has condensed more and more as the years have gone by. In 1983, the US media was controlled by 50 companies. There were nine companies ruling in the 1990s, and by 2020 the number shrank to six — AT&T (which bought Time Warner), Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), Comcast, Disney, News Corp, and Viacom. This means that a huge amount of media companies are connected. For instance, the Huffington Post, Yahoo! News, and America Online (AOL) are all owned by the same conglomerate, and Comcast is the parent company of NBC News, MSNBC, and Universal Pictures. Additionally, several billionaires control huge sections of the media. One example is Mortimer Zuckerman, who owns US News & World Report and the New York Daily News, or Warren Buffett, who has the majority of Berkshire Hathaway’s voting stock, which owns 70 daily newspapers in the US.
Not only are there six conglomerates alone that mainly own the media, but these six are so interconnected that they are practically one. A 2003 study in the Columbia Journalism Review found that there were 45 of the same members on the boards of directors of Time Warner (a controlling conglomerate at the time now owned by AT&T), Viacom, and Disney. Additionally, the main conglomerates share 141 joint ventures, for example Hulu, which is owned by both Disney and Comcast. This means that these companies can create an echo chamber, projecting the same ideas and working together to advance mutual interests.
Research suggests that more concentrated media ownership also results in a conservative shift in the ideologies being spread. In 2017, a study was done on the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns 191 stations that reach nearly 40 percent of the US population. It obtained 14 local stations that year, and they showed a rightward political shift, employing significantly more right-wing phrases than they had previously used, such as “death tax” instead of “estate tax” or “illegal aliens” instead of “undocumented immigrants.” This strongly suggests that corporate bias is slanting information and undermining the ideal of an objective press.
The concentration of media ownership and the corporate conflicts of interest are threatening the truth. The media has a huge amount of power, influencing the way we see the world, especially politically. But if the media fails to provide us with unbiased information, we can’t make accurate judgements. As Jim Morrison, lead vocalist of rock band The Doors, remarked, “whoever controls the media, controls the mind.” Do we really want to continue to let massive conglomerates manipulate our thoughts for their profit?