Media Reform

Return to Issues Home Page

Related Website Links (also see Media Reform Working Group)

By the end of the millenium five men controlled the world's media.
And the people rejoiced, because their TVs told them to.
-- Michael Moore

Numerous polls show that TV, radio are not trusted sources of information. In polls asking "what are the most trusted or respected occupations", both politicians and reporters rank near the bottom.

In apparent contradiction to this, numerous studies also show that most American's decisions about who to vote for or against, are based on information they receive through the major media; including both news coverage and political commericals. This is why politicians spend so much money advertising on these "information" sources and court "news" coverage of their campaign.

There are obvious reasons people are influenced by a medium they distrust. Most people are busy with work and family responsibilities; if the information source is easy and comfortable to access, such as TV "news", radio and major newspapers will gradually influence opinion, even though the viewer or reader suspects the content may be less than honest. Other alternative sources of information, if largely unavailable or more difficult to access, will have less influence.

Even though some studies show that corporate officers and managers in media tend to be registered Republican and that the reporters tend be registered Democrat, the terms conservative or liberal do not readily apply to the media. The major media tends to support the worst elements of the status quo; the slant which dominates the news tends to be what will keep the owners of the media in power and their businesses profitable.

Currently the major news media is owned by multinational conglomerates who in some cases have multiple industrial holdings; additionally, the bulk of their advertising revenue is derived from the other multi-national corporations who find it most profitable to exploit people and resources.

The owners of the media select managers and news directors who will reflect their point of view. With few exceptions, the reporters who survive and prosper in this major media world, learn to repress objectivity and real world awareness. Of course there are reporters whose lack of real life experience has made them naturally shallow and ambitious without ethics and these reporters are naturally a good fit in this media world.

Dean of American press criticism, George Seldes, wrote in 1938: "The most stupid boast in the history of present-day journalism is that of the writer who says, 'I have never been given orders; I am free to do as I like.'"

Seldes' point was that it is those who are likely to do something the boss doesn't like that get told what to do; those who naturally do what the boss wants need no such direction.

In addition to being beholden to the corporate interests who pay them, reporters face the additional problem in dealing with powerful appointed government officials exemplified by the following quote:

In this incestuous culture, "news" is defined chiefly as the actions and statements of people in power. Reporters, dependent on "access" and leaks provided by official sources, are too often unwilling to risk alienating these sources with truly critical coverage. (

A recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center and the Columbia Journalism Review showed that 4 in 10 journalists soften or avoid stories due to upper management and market pressure. The poll was taken in February and March of 2000, and surveyed 206 reporter and 81 news managers, from both local and national news organizations; the error margin was plus or minus 7 percent.

A brief look at the inner workings of NBC news owned by General Electric will give one an idea of how a large multi-industry company manages the news.

George Bush senior, once bragged that Jack Welch, GE's CEO, was one of his biggest financial supporters. Welch is still active in Republican politics.

The following are excerpted from, "The Case of NBC", By Jim Naureckas

Larry Grossman (who preceded Michael Gartner as head of NBC news) was told in no uncertain terms what GE expected from him, "You work for GE!" Welch once shouted at his subordinate, poking a finger at Grossman's chest (Ken Auletta, "Three Blind Mice").

Welch told Grossman not to use phrases like "Black Monday" to describe the 1987 stock market crash, because it was depressing the price of blue chip stocks like GE. He warned the NBC News chief, "Don't bend over backwards to go after us just because we own you". Welch even told Grossman to allow Today show weather forecaster Willard Scott to keep plugging GE light bulbs (Lawrence Grossman," The Electronic Republic; Electronic Media", 11/11/91).

Gartner, on the other hand, reportedly had a knack for knowing what the boss wanted. "Michael Gartner, the bow-tied newspaperman from Iowa, did what his bosses at NBC-TV and its parent, General Electric Co., hired him to do nearly five years ago," the Chicago Tribune reported after Gartner lost his job following NBC's fake-explosion fiasco (3/3/93): "He slashed staff and services and stopped the red ink from flowing at NBC News."

Under Gartner, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer (3/3/93), "Corporate standards were more important than journalistic standards." TV insiders cited this as the reason Gartner held onto his job for so long, despite the general decline of NBC News during his tenure: "He basically survived because GE liked him," one TV executive told the Chicago Tribune (3/3/93); "Corporate loves him," another said to the Sacramento Bee (2/15/93). "He's a bottom-line guy."

Most people who work for large corporations understand without being told that there are things you should and should not do. The Today show producer who declined to include an anti-GE campaign in a segment on consumer boycotts probably wasn't thinking of an official memorandum when she said, "We can't do that one. Well, we could do that one, but we won't." (Extra!, 1-2/91)

Nor did Today likely get an order from GE headquarters--or from Gartner--before censoring references to GE in a story on defective bolts used in airplanes and other equipment (Today, 11/30/89). The executive at SuperChannel, NBC's European cable channel, probably wasn't told to cancel the human rights show Rights & Wrongs after it examined the poor working conditions at GE plants in Mexico (Extra! Update, 8/94,

Who owns the media and how consolidated is it?

(From, N.S.)
"Most Americans live in areas where just a few media conglomerates dominate. Overall, what's on the airwaves is more like centralized monotony than democratic discourse."

Starting with the Telecommunications Act of 1996, "we've had no national limits on how many radio stations a single corporation can own. In a big city, eight radio stations can belong to the same firm. And the Federal Communications Commission just ruled that one company can own two television stations in the same city. "

"The last thing we're likely to hear on networks owned by General Electric (NBC), Westinghouse (CBS) or Disney (ABC) is in-depth debate about the wisdom of surrendering the nation's airwaves to unabashed profiteers."

Millions of Americans, eager for news coverage, depend on "noncommercial" stations. But National Public Radio affiliates, like their TV counterparts with ties to PBS, are so dependent or corporate donations for there existence and growth that the public has little voice --even at stations that call themselves "listener supported."
(, N.S.)

The current consolidation of information in 2000 is even greater than in the excepts below from Robert W. McChesney

November/December 1997
The Global Media Giants
"The nine firms that dominate the world".

Time Warner | Disney | Bertelsmann | Viacom | News Corporation | Sony | TCI | Universal | NBC

A specter now haunts the world: a global commercial media system dominated by a small number of super-powerful, mostly U.S.-based transnational media corporations. It is a system that works to advance the cause of the global market and promote commercial values, while denigrating journalism and culture not conducive to the immediate bottom line or long-run corporate interests. It is a disaster for anything but the most superficial notion of democracy--a democracy where, to paraphrase John Jay's maxim, those who own the world ought to govern it.

The global commercial system is a very recent development. Until the 1980s, media systems were generally national in scope. While there have been imports of books, films, music and TV shows for decades, the basic broadcasting systems and newspaper industries were domestically owned and regulated. Beginning in the 1980s, pressure from the IMF, World Bank and U.S. government to deregulate and privatize media and communication systems coincided with new satellite and digital technologies, resulting in the rise of transnational media giants.

How quickly has the global media system emerged? The two largest media firms in the world, Time Warner and Disney, generated around 15 percent of their income outside of the United States in 1990. By 1997, that figure was in the 30 to 35 percent range. Both firms expect to do a majority of their business abroad at some point in the next decade.

The global media system is now dominated by a first tier of nine giant firms. The five largest are Time Warner (1997 sales: $24 billion), Disney ($22 billion), Bertelsmann ($15 billion), Viacom ($13 billion), and Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation ($11 billion). Besides needing global scope to compete, the rules of thumb for global media giants are twofold: First, get bigger so you dominate markets and your competition can't buy you out. Firms like Disney and Time Warner have almost tripled in size this decade.

Second, have interests in numerous media industries, such as film production, book publishing, music, TV channels and networks, retail stores, amusement parks, magazines, newspapers and the like. The profit whole for the global media giant can be vastly greater than the sum of the media parts. A film, for example, should also generate a soundtrack, a book, and merchandise, and possibly spin-off TV shows, CD-ROMs, video games and amusement park rides. Firms that do not have conglomerated media holdings simply cannot compete in this market.

The first tier is rounded out by TCI, the largest U.S. cable company that also has U.S. and global media holdings in scores of ventures too numerous to mention. The other three first-tier global media firms are all part of much larger industrial corporate powerhouses: General Electric (1997 sales: $80 billion), owner of NBC; Sony (1997 sales: $48 billion), owner of Columbia & TriStar Pictures and major recording interests; and Seagram (1997 sales: $14 billion), owner of Universal film and music interests. The media holdings of these last four firms do between $6 billion and $9 billion in business per year. While they are not as diverse as the media holdings of the first five global media giants, these four firms have global distribution and production in the areas where they compete. And firms like Sony and GE have the resources to make deals to get a lot bigger very quickly if they so desire.

Behind these firms is a second tier of some three or four dozen media firms that do between $1 billion and $8 billion per year in media-related business. These firms tend to have national or regional strongholds or to specialize in global niche markets. About one-half of them come from North America, including the likes of Westinghouse (CBS), the New York Times Co., Hearst, Comcast and Gannett. Most of the rest come from Europe, with a handful based in East Asia and Latin America. "
( End 1997 Robert W. McChesney excerpt)

In 1987 Ben Bagdikian wrote:
(The Wall Street Journal study he cites predicting the media consolidation in the 1990's has come true with recent mergers)

"In 1982, when I completed research for my book, The Media Monopoly, 50 corporations controlled half or more of the media business. By December 1986, when I finished a revision for a second edition, the 50 had shrunk to 29. The last time I counted, it was down to 26. [When the latest edition of The Media Monopoly was published in 1993, the number was down to 20. -ed.] A number of serious Wall Street media analysts are predicting that by the 1990s, a half-dozen giant firms will control most of our media.

Of the 1,700 daily papers, 98 percent are local monopolies and fewer than 15 corporations control most of the country's daily 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 GE/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.

The safest way to ensure diversity of opinion is diverse ownership. But this ideal has been sacrificed by our government..."

If Media Reform is a subject of special interest to you please email us and put "media reform" (without the quote marks) on the subject line. We will inform you of future updates to this subject area. If you have information you think should be included or questions please include them in the body of the message.

Related Website Links