McChesney- ‘Rich Media, Poor Democracy’
McChesney wrote ‘Rich Media, Poor Democracy’ to show the democratic problems in United States and other countries in the world and how corporate media downplays the requirements of attaining an effective democratic system. The author also addressed the concentration of ownership in the media industry and how this has transformed the sector.
He further analyzes how public broadcast stations have gradually fallen due to policies that are deliberately formulated to protect corporate media. His study also evaluates the media industry and corporate ownership between 1970s and 1990s (McCheseney, 2000, p. 15-18).
According to author, increase in the number of channels in U.S., is a major cause of corporate concentration in media industry. He argues that technological advancements in cable, television, digital media and satellite have resulted to changes in media ownership.
He also argues that corporate concentration comes in as a response to the rapid changes in the industry. He asserts that for a media firm to make profits in such an industry, it has to invest in international distributors, stations, frequencies, operations of the channels and also in cable channels.
The author of ‘Rich Media, Poor Democracy’ says that most of corporate concentration in the 1970s up to 1990s seemed to have conglomeration kind of media ownership. In such an ownership, a certain major media becomes a key shareholder in two or more sectors in the media industry.
These sectors may be in recorded music, publishing sector and a broadcast sector. With such ownership, the operations of these media outlets’ can be interfered with by the advertisers who in most cases form the major corporate owners. With such influences, citizens are limited in making informed decisions. This is because ownership threatens their democratic rights. Stories are also written in favor of the owners or else media practitioners risk losing their jobs.
McChesney also argues that “the United States media system is an integral part of the capitalist political economy and that the relation it has important and troubling implications for democracy” (McCheseney, 2000, p. 15).
Changes and consequences of the rapid increase in concentration of ownership in mass media, and the implications of this to consumers
Concentration of media ownership is normally surrounded by large media systems owning few corporations or media firms .Concentration of ownership can be in the form of monopoly, whereby, one corporation owns the whole market. At other times, the ownership may be having two or more businesses or media firms dominating the industry and compete with one another (Voelker & Voelker,2002, p.65).
Concentration of the media operates under the concept of ‘benefits go to the big fish’. Competition is the determinant factor of any kind of market economy and diversity. Concentration of a market results into homogeneity .The number of consumers are often limited and so is the market size. Unregulated concentration of the media cuts on the number of competitors hence creating a monopoly-dominance situation.
Since 1990s, regulation of the content that features on newspapers, TV or radio has continued to dominate the media industry across the world at the expense of the society. Society depends on the media outlets for education, information, news and also for entertainment (Croteau & Hoyn, 2003, p. 37-47).
Concentration of media ownership can influence the profits that a media firm attains. Since the liberalization of the European media markets in 1980s, the number of privately owned media has continually increased. The growth is mainly associated with internet innovation. With privately owned media and emergence of internet, there are major shifts in the advertisement industry. This is because the owners decide on which media channel to advertise in.
But because most media outlets rely on advertisement fee, then, withdrawal of the fee means a loss on the media outlet. This can cause adverse financial effects and can even lead to journalists losing their jobs and closure of the channels. Politicians in the society can also withhold advertisements from a given system in the media industry causing the medium to suffer financially (Croteau, & Hoyn, 2003, p. 37).
Concentration of media ownership can also result into censorship of the amount of information that the society gets. In such instances, all the printing facilities and circulation channels may be centralized into some few companies. This is a situation that can cause a barrier on people in the society from accessing newspapers (Croteau, & Hoyn, 2003, p. 37-47).
An independent media set the agenda for the society. To be open and independent, newspapers must not be owned by the local entities in the society or the state. With concentration of media owners in the newspaper industry, newspapers lose their independence to the competitors. This interrupts what has for long been known as news worthy incidents. Relevant themes fail to feature, hence a shift in the society’s agenda.
Individual citizens rely heavily on the media while determining what is important. The media sets the agenda by repeatedly focusing on a particular topic. In this way, the media shapes opinions and behaviors of people in the society. However, when there is a concentration of media ownership in a particular state, then the content is determined by the existing powers of the owner. In most cases, the influences come from political power holders in the society (Croteau, & Hoyn, 2003, p. 37-47).
According to European Human Rights Court, the media has to have a major voice and openly give opinions if democracy is to be observed. Plurality is a major policy in Europe that governs the media. In order to promote democracy in any society, plurality must be exercised as well as a competitive market. This also means that the society must be given an opportunity to choose from what media channel they may listen to.
The effectiveness of any communication system in a democratic society is measured by the quality of the information transmitted. This calls for media systems that freely expresses ideas and also give opinions without any interference. This is a requirement for the people in decision making process within a society.
Individuals in a community heavily rely on the media in order to exercise their democracy to information and freedom for speech and expression. However, this can only be achieved in a society that practices democracy and is open. The media must also be an independent one if the rights of these individuals are to be observed (Wells & Hakanen, 1997, p. 3).
With concentration of ownership, professional journalism is always under attack. The society is surrounded with lots of print, film, television, internet, and of course music as main media outlets for different individuals. However, political ownership of these media outlet can adversely interfere with journalistic professionalism. Journalists are the society’s watchdog.
They observe what is happening in the political world and also sensor social problems on behalf of individuals. They also play a major role in fostering developments within the society.
Lack of an open and free media in a society leads to lack of democracy. Extreme consequences on journalists who disregard the regulations of the media by the monopoly companies can be death sentences, long term imprisonments and other forms of physical violence. This the highest order of democracy suppression (Croteau, & Hoyn, 2003, p. 37-47).
With self and profit oriented media companies, media is becoming almost limited in its meaning. In addition, professional practices are often overlooked when looking for news events and incidents. This is because corporate ownership of the industry demands for ‘big’ stories in order to make huge profits.
The media system has been rapidly changed by the fact that most of the corporations are run with the motives of making profits through advertisements hence limiting the democracy that media brings in any society. In today’s world, media ownership is becoming more and more concentrated to businesses thus making the media industry hard to professionally tame (OSCE, 2003, p. 40)
Concentration of ownership of media has caused investigative and critical coverage of stories is a thing of the past. This means that consumers of such news receive shallow information on issues that could be critically represented by an independent and open medium. In concentrated corporations of media, the aim is to make as much money as possible, and so no need to conduct underground investigations and deeply analyze content that would benefit the consumers (OSCE, 2003, p. 40).
Furthermore, media policies that the monopoly companies make restrict coverage of some incidents. Critical issues that affect the society are hindered, a position that leaves the society ignorant of the important matters that concern them.
The scenario in corporate media is that of local powers and directors holding the most shares in the company and being in the executive positions. They therefore control the running of a media system socially and politically. A situation that gives a loop hole for professionalism rules to be undermined.
This will directly affect the content that consumers receive when they buy the newspapers, listen to a radio channel or watch a television program. The content will be of lesser value than they pay for. In such a scenario the media practitioners are compelled to cover the politicians favorably. They also at some point receive incentives form the local powers. This is a violation of journalistic code of conduct (Wells & Hakanen, 1997, p. 3).
The competition for market share in the media industry can make politicians use the media as a platform to reinforce their political profiles in light for the next elections (Wells & Hakanen, 1997, p. 45). At some time, politicians may chose which journalist will interview them.
At the end the content of the media channel is influenced to feature political matters instead of the critical issues that directly affect the society. The effect of this is that educative and informational programs on broadcast media and articles on newspaper are replaced with political content (OSCE, 2003, p. 24).
Consumers buy subjective content in such model of ownership. The role of editors, journalists and publishers shift from being watch dogs for the society to political advisors. In the contemporary world, journalists can only remain credible when they independently observe the event and then report. This is in contrast to most concentrated or privately run media. This results into failure of objective reporting among the media practitioners (Croteau & Hoyn, 2003, p. 56).
Audiences have different tastes and compositions. However production facilities and distribution channels may be influenced to benefit the major firms who mainly aim at making profits. With concentration of ownership in the music industry, individual citizens only get what interests the management and ownership of the major companies. The audience is left with no choice but to listen what is exposed to them through the media channels or through a limited access to some music albums (Wells & Hakanen, 1997, p. 73).
The music industry, like the newspaper constituents of the media was also dominated by concentration of ownership during the period ranging from 1969 to1990. Since then, production system in the industry music has changed from a ‘closed’ to an ‘open’ model (McCheseney, 2000, p. 15-20).
In this industry, the same concept of concentration applies with the large-based producers, publicity and distribution segment having an overall control of other recording companies. With such a system within the music industry, innovation and diversity promotes the large companies in gaining both control and in getting large profits (Croteau, & Hoyn, 2003, p. 56).
Concentration of media ownership creates barriers of entry for new companies. This situation causes competition to be stiff. There is no effective media policy which can exist in the media industry that is interpedently with politics.
Newspapers are slowly losing their relevance to the society due to political influence. Consumers are therefore opting for other communication channels in place of print media. Recent studies indicate that the use of television as the primary source of news and political influence on content has made many lose their trust in the media.
To ensure that consumers get the right information content and access of the medium, the media should be allowed to operate independently. Media regulators also need to follow transparent procedures and policies when allocating broadcast permits and frequencies.
Croteau, D. & Hoyn, W. (2003). Media society: industries, images and audiences. U.S: Pine Forge Press.
McCheseney, R. (2000). Rich media, poor democracy: communication politics in dubious times. New York: The new press. http://www.amazon.com/Rich-Media-Poor-Democracy-Communication/dp/1565846346#reader_1565846346
OSCE. (2003).The Impact of media concentration on professional journalism. Retrieved August 25, 2010 from http://www.osce.org/publications/rfm/2003/12/12244_102_en.pdf
Voelker, F.H. & Voelker,L.A. 2002. Mass media: forces in our society. Michigan: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Wells, A. & Hakanen, E. (1997). Mass media & society. U.S: Greenwood publishing group.