Reporting the World through Conglomerate-Colored Glasses

Article excerpt

Most people realize that the ABC television network (and news department) is owned by Disney/Capital Cities, NBC by General Electric, CBS by Westinghouse, and CNN by Times-Warner. But one would never know these facts by watching the nightly news.

The problem of corporate mergers does not appear on the national policy agenda. Few news programs, radio talk shows, or newspaper editorials debate the dangers of increased media concenration. So even if it's no secret that our primary perceptions of the world are filtered through the cloudy lenses of international entertainment, appliance, and weapons superconglomerates, this is not perceived as a problem to be solved by well informed citizens in a representative democracy. Perhaps it is because we are not that well informed after all.

A fine example of this filtering effect occurred in connection with congressional approval of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the Judicial action that followed, striking down certain of the law's censorship provisions. This may be the most far reaching piece of legislation signed in our lifetime, a law that literally defines the infrastructure of our nation's seemingly limitless telecommunications future. But if pundits and citizens concerned themselves with the bill at all--and most didn't--they debated the much ballyhooed v-chip in the context of its ability to keep certain material from children watching television.

All told, the v-chip comprises only a negligible portion of the law, but that was what the media moguls wanted us to focus on--the decency issues--and so we did. The news strung us out on sensationalistic stories about on line debauchery and Internet sex and graphic violence instead of the more significant realities of financial bonanzas and regulatory giveaways to the already massive entertainment, media, and telecommunications combines.

Along similar lines, important stories about white collar swindles are buried deep inside the newspaper, if reported at all, while the front page--and radio and TV news--is obsessed with lowly neighborhood hoodlums. Might this also have to do with corporate control of these media outlets?

The real dirt is often placed on an inside page of the newspaper business section to avoid notoriety, unless it is just too outrageous and sleazy, like the tobacco executives who allegedly spiked cigarettes with nicotine or covered up the known carcinogenic effects of their products. …