Culture, Society, and the Media

By Michael Gurevitch; Tony Bennett et al. | Go to book overview

5

Large corporations and the control of the communications industries

GRAHAM MURDOCK


INTRODUCTION

The communications industries produce peculiar commodities. At one level they are goods and services like any others: cans of fruit, automobiles or insurance. But they are also something more. By providing accounts of the contemporary world and images of the 'good life', they play a pivotal role in shaping social consciousness, and it is this 'special relationship' between economic and cultural power that has made the issue of their control a continuing focus of academic and political concern. Ever since the jointstock company or corporation emerged as the dominant form of mass media enterprise in the latter part of the last century, questions about the nature of and limits to corporate power have occupied a key place in debates about the control of modern communications. This paper sets out to review the major strands in this debate and to evaluate the contending positions in the light of recent research. Although most of my examples and illustrations will be drawn from contemporary work on Britain, the general arguments are applicable to all advanced capitalist economies.


CORPORATE CONTROL IN THE CONGLOMERATE ERA

The potential reach and power of the leading media corporations is greater now than at any time in the past, due to two interlinked movements in the structure of the communications industries-concentration and conglomeration.

As I have shown elsewhere (Murdock and Golding, 1977) production in the major British mass media markets is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few large companies. In central sectors such as daily and Sunday newspapers, paperback books, records, and commercial television programming, two-thirds or more of the total audience are reading, hearing or looking at material produced by the top five firms in that sector. Other markets, notably cinema exhibition and women's and children's magazines are even more concentrated, with the lion's share of sales going to the top two companies in each. Even areas such as local weekly newspapers where production has traditionally been highly dispersed are now showing a

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