Media reform?

by Eszter Hargittai on October 13, 2004

Let’s try to channel some of that energy from the last post toward a more productive discussion.:) Here’s a little Flash movie about how the media are covering the presidential campaigns. I doubt any of it will be shocking to most readers of CT, but it’s still worth a pause and some thought.

The site that features the video offers much information about media ownership and is quite a resource. But I found it difficult to locate concrete things one may be able to do, except donate money to the cause.

One section suggests ten policies to fix the media. Do you find them convincing? Realistic? Necessary? Unnecessary? Hopeless? Too vague? Too ambitious? Not ambitious enough? Discuss.



snicker-snack 10.13.04 at 7:19 am

…and put a ban on hiring graduates of Journalism schools (okay, somewhat hyperbolic but I am NOT impressed by what these schools have wrought). My own bias would be towards those trained in the sciences and perhaps engineering. You know, people who are numerate and are trained to be sceptical, to dig for information and to problem solve, not just act as gawking transcribers.

The missing step in in most reporting is describing what the actual situation is!


Bruce Wilder 10.13.04 at 7:55 am

Liberal or progressive Democrats really ought to recognize that this is a life or death issue, or one aspect of the life or death issue. There need to be some seriously sharp teeth, back of those 10 policies. A “slice and dice” antitrust policy regarding Big Media would be a good start.

Kerry, if he wants to survice four years in the WH, would be well-advised to deliberately and decisively move to utterly and completely destroy Sinclair Broadcasting. Take them down. Shareholder suits, license revocation, investigation of government contracting; go after the executives for patronizing prostitutes or using drugs. Unrelenting attack, culminating in total destruction.

An good example is essential to effective instruction.


Brett Bellmore 10.13.04 at 11:15 am

1. Create and support genuine, independent and noncommercial public broadcasting.

In order to replace a media bought and paid for by it’s advertisers, with a media bought and paid for by the government.

2. Independent media of all kinds must be supported. Views from outside the mainstream — in the realms of politics, the arts, and beyond — need to be nurtured through government policy and subsidy.

So that they will become terrified at the thought of pissing off the government, and losing that subsidy.

3. Legislation reversing mediaownership consolidation must be enacted.

So that the government will have an excuse for breaking up any network that doesn’t toe the line.

4. Diversity in media ownership, staffing and representation must be increased.

In order that the people who think alike will at least look different.

5. Our broken media regulatory processes must be revamped.

Existing media must be made more fearful of crossing the government than is already the case, by explicitly engaging in content based regulation.

6. Big Media must be accountable to citizens.

Through the mediation of the government, which will make the media acountable to the citizens whose concerns mirror it’s own.

7. Require broadcasters to provide free air time for all candidates.

So that the candidates *I* support can get airtime even though nobody freaking supports them.

8. Support micro-broadcasting and low power FM.

Give me time, I’ll figure out the malign aspect of this.

9. Keep media out of global trade deals.

Stop pressuring countries which already have government controlled media to losen their deathgrip on public discourse.

10. Prevent Big Media from stifling innovation and the free flow of information, on the Internet and elsewhere.

Ignore that corporations stifle innovation by getting the government to regulate in their interest. See DMCA, for instance.


lth 10.13.04 at 1:03 pm

On the other hand, Brett, you can’t accuse an organization such as the BBC of cheerleading for their government – so yes, you put forward a whole bunch of things that could possibly happen, but are they worse than the current state of the US media?


Ben 10.13.04 at 1:11 pm


Advertising media isn’t ‘free’ any more than tax-funded media is. Unless viewers withdraw purchases of all advertised products – an almost impossible task – they are paying through the products they buy. I no more choose to be barraged with advertising paid for by my groceries than I do be taxed.

Subsidised media isn’t automatically at the mercy of government. It depends on its funding mechanism (e.g. the BBC)

Diversified, independent media (subsidised or not) is able to question and hold governments accountable and mitigate precisely the bullying you describe. As in the UK example again, where diversified national press and TV has held the government accountable for its actions much more than in the US.

Accordingly, reversing or preventing excessive consolidation is a necessary step towards media diversification and promotion of democracy.

Better media regulation does not necessarily harm media either. It provides a framework in which the rules are unambiguous and can prevent political “morality crusades” etc a la Janet Jackson episode. It also prevents political favouritism to one group over another.

Big media can still be accountable without the government bullying it. An independent watchdog, with a non-political head/membership can achieve this.


asg 10.13.04 at 1:21 pm

The most laughable bit of that Flash video was the assertion that “Ad costs force Big Money into politics.” Nah, the virtually unchecked power — the power to favor one business over another in ways worth millions to the favored, the power of an 80%+ incumbent-reelection rate — these pale in contrast to “ad costs”. Mmm-hmmm.

Here’s a pretty good Reason article about media consolidation: Among other things it debunks the idea that the media is particularly consolidated, or that it’s much moreso than it was in the past, and the idea that smaller media entities produce more or better news and public affairs programming.


donna 10.13.04 at 3:20 pm

I think the recent decision by the Sinclair Broadcast Group to dictate the broadcast of an anti-Kerry documentary is a strong argument for media reform. De-regulation has markedly increased the ability of media owners to shape the agenda of the public space that broadcast media occupies. Public affairs belongs in the public arena, and should be accessible to the public. As things are now, it is not.

So what should be done? I agree wholeheartedly with the first point of the media reform recommendations. In spite of what Brett writes, I do not think the is talking about a government monopoly of media. What is needed is a true diversity of media, which is to say there needs to be some media space which is not driven by the profit motive.

I suggest academia could take the lead in creating a little broadcasting space of its own. I have just started blogging on this idea. Please feel free to visit my blog and comment.


Giles 10.13.04 at 3:25 pm

If I want to read a national newspaper – all I ‘ve got to choose between it the NYT and USA today.

And when you switch on the tele CBS NBS and the other BS are virtually indistinguishable.

Any way Bret nailed it – the whole arguments just narrow minded cranks gunning for subsidies.


jet 10.13.04 at 3:35 pm

I know you are all smart and intelligent people. And while there certainly appears to be quite a few shared flaws between all the news corporations, they still exist in a competitive market.

And this market is currently undergoing a remarkable shift. A single cable news station is blowing the big three out of the water along with the other news cable stations.

Might it not be possible that we are about to see a remarkable realignmnet of the news industry as the market becomes quite a bit more competitive?

Or is this market driven realignment what you are trying to stop?


Ben 10.13.04 at 4:49 pm

Asq – the Reason article is flawed. For example: “The idea that Rupert Murdoch’s Fox media empire or Arthur Sulzberger’s at The New York Times can overwhelm the voice of the people seems a little more absurd with each new broadband Internet subscription”

It’s not absurd at all. Hence why such so many people believe Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11.

In a genuinely competitive news market, the *facts* might have had some traction. It begs the question how poorly served the public are by the media on subjects of lesser importance.

Compaine throws out a lot of numbers on how many players there are to hide the fact that a small group of national players control the market.

He dismisses the idea of market share as relevant, “It may indeed be”. When market share is the most important point in any discussion of monopoly/oligopoly.

It’s a bit like saying “see, there are hundreds of software companies, Microsoft doesn’t have a monopoly on desktop software”. By focusing on the numbers of companies, and mixing apples and pears (record labels, news providers), Compaine tries to obscure the obvious.

Read Ted Turner for an alternative view. The Fox News example is supposed to show how a small player can build up an established market share. It belies the fact that Rupert Murdoch was already an established market player. The only other new entrant, CNN, grew before the change in media ownership rules.


james 10.13.04 at 5:48 pm

An unfortunate case where both views are accurate. Large media conglomerates tend to support the candidate that adds to their bottom line. On the other side, public media (i.e. government owned) in western democracies tend to support the candidate that most closely agrees with the views of the media staff. Neither model is particularly concerned with the actual views of the populace at large.


asg 10.13.04 at 6:09 pm

1. I think it’s a little facile to blame media consolidation for widespread misconceptions about Saddam’s nonexistent link to 9/11 (or, on the other side, Halliburton’s profits), when political irrationality is a far better explanation. Now maybe you can argue that media consolidation, if it exists, encourages political irrationality, but that’d need a post in itself.

2. How does Compaine “dismiss” market share? He gives examples of the Herfindahl-Hirschbaum index in the media industry, and points out that they are well below standard DoJ guidelines for oligopoly, much less monopoly.

(I’d also dispute the point that market share is the most relevant point in any discussion of whether an industry is monopolized — I’d say that place is occupied by pricing behavior. A market with a single firm is not monopolized if the threat of competition prevents that firm from raising its prices.)

3. He also points out that while there may be a smallish number of players, the lineup is constantly changing, which suggests competition.

4. Even if the Fox News example doesn’t work — which I dispute — what about Comcast?


dipnut 10.13.04 at 10:38 pm

What the…? Campaign finance is money-dominated?!

The bastards.


Robin Green 10.14.04 at 2:44 am

I agree with Brett that government funding is corrupting and not ideal – although I’d still rather have the BBC than not have it at all.

What I propose instead is: more not-for-profit Internet news sources, supported exclusively by reader donations. An example of such a media source – which needs our support and backing – is US-based, progressive online newspaper, The New Standard. They are doing sterling work for barely more than minimum wage. They have no corporate or government ties. (Of course, some of their journalists might also write for less independent publications, I don’t know, but you can’t have everything.)

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