Rich Media, Poor Democracy: Communication Politics in Dubious Times

By Bernt, Joseph P. | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

Rich Media, Poor Democracy: Communication Politics in Dubious Times


Bernt, Joseph P., Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


Rich Media, Poor Democracy: Communication Politics in Dubious Times. Robert W. McChesney. Urbana and Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1999. 427 pp. $32.95 hbk.

Methodically, chapter following chapter in Rich Media, Poor Democracy, Robert McChesney reviews the present content, ownership, and marketing strategies of media conglomerates; revisits the history of broadcasting mostly with reference to the United States and Canada; dissects contemporary reverence for neo-liberal economics and absolutist ACLU interpretations of the First Amendment; and debunks Pollyanna assertions about the democratizing and educational potential of the Internet. The result of this tour de force is two fold: first, a convincing economic argument for why a citizenry swimming through a sea of media and information has little interest in democratic politics; and, second, an equally convincing demonstration that unless social democrats make media policy a central focus in public discourse worldwide, current media trends will accelerate and already sparse political participation will decline further.

McChesney documents corporate media concentration, global media conglomeration, and all-encompassing commercialism as the three forces since the 1960s that have transferred control of news, information, film, sports, music, and even education, public broadcasting, and public spaces into the hands of a few wealthy investors, corporate executives, and advertisers. For media students, this description of the current state of media and journalism is the most useful portion of Rich Media, Poor Democracy.

Comparing current commercialization and monopolization of a publicly financed and developed Internet to the strikingly similar history of broadcasting about which he has written elsewhere, McChesney outlines how citizens' voices are marginalized during infrequent and under-reported public policy debates that still occur in Congress and before the Federal Communication Commission. He finds such discussions now appear only in the financial and trade press, where the partisans determine how to divide the spoils among ever fewer media enterprises. In today's neo-liberal unregulated economy, commercial interests and politicians-whose campaigns those interests fund-place the business of media outside the precarious boundaries of democratic politics. …

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