The rapidly increasing centralization of media ownership raises critical questions about the public’s access to a diversity of opinion. Further, and perhaps not surprisingly, the impact of this monopolization of information on a free society continues to be ignored by the mass media.
In 1982, when media expert Ben Bagdikian completed research for his book, THE MEDIA MONOPOLY, he found that 50 corporations controlled half or more of the media business. By December of 1986, when he finished a revision for a second edition, the 50 had shrunk to 29. About half a year later, when he wrote an article for EXTRA, the number was down to 26.
He also warned that a number of serious Wall Street analysts of the media are predicting that by the 1990s a half dozen giant firms will control most of our media.
Bagdikian notes that of the 1700 daily papers, 98 percent are local monopolies and fewer than 15 corporations control most of the country’s circulation. A handful of firms have most of the magazine business, with Time, Inc. alone accounting for about 40 percent of that industry’s revenues. The three networks, Capital Cities/ABC, CBS, and NBC, still have majority access to the television audience, and most of the book business is controlled by fewer than a dozen companies, with major categories like paperback and trade books dominated by still fewer firms.
Even worse, this situation is exacerbated by the conflict of interest inherent in interlocking boards of directors. An earlier study, by Peter Dreier and Steven Weinberg, found interlocking directorates in major newspaper chains like Gannett which shared directors with Merrill Lynch, Standard Oil of Ohio, 20th Century Fox, Kerr-McGee, McDonnell Douglas Aircraft, McGraw-Hill, Eastern Airlines, Phillips Petroleum, Kellogg Company, and the New York Telephone Co.
The most influential newspaper in America, THE NEW YORK TIMES, was interlocked with Merck, Morgan Guaranty Trust, Bristol Myers, Charter Oil, Johns Manville, American Express, Bethlehem Steel, IBM, Scott Paper, Sun Oil, and First Boston Corporation.
Time, Inc.’s interlocks included Mobil Oil, AT&T, American Express, Firestone Tire & Rubber Company, Mellon National Corporation, Atlantic Richfield, Xerox, General Dynamics, and most of the major international banks.
Bagdikian’s warning is ominous: “… a shrinking number of large media corporations now regard monopoly, oligopoly, and historic levels of profit as not only normal, but as their earned right. In the process, the usual democratic expectations for the media — diversity of ownership and ideas — have disappeared as the goal of official policy and, worse, as a daily experience of a generation of American readers and viewers.”
Equally disturbing, the prevailing concern with the bottom line coupled with the traditional publishers’ tendency to avoid controversy fosters wide-spread self-censorship among writers, journalists, editors, and news directors.
EXTRA!, June 1987, “The 26 corporations that own our media,” pp 1, 4, and MULTINATIONAL MONITOR, September 1987, “The Media Brokers,” pp 7-12, both by Ben Bagdikian; UTNE READER, Jan/Feb 1988, “Censorship in Publishing,” by Lynette Lamb.