The cornerstone of reliable information is objectivity and accountability of its source. But can one count on any knowledge, when there is a handful of corporate giants controlling a massive majority of what one reads, watches and hears?
This idea was first widely investigated by Ben H. Bagdikian in his book “The Media Monopoly,” where the author points out that nearly 90 percent of media in the U.S. — comprised of newspapers, TV stations, publishing houses, radio stations and movie studios — is owned by five corporations. The Big 5 mentioned by him in 2004 were Time Warner, Walt Disney, News Corporation, Viacom and Bertelsmann. This has been updated to the following Big 6:
Source: Frugal Dad
As evident from this infographic and another viral one shared in the blog Frugal Dad, it is evident while there have been some changes in the ownership of these media houses over the years, the control still rests with a very few.
According to the blog, these six companies together earned $275.9 billion in 2010. And although there are other independent influential news outlets like New York Times, Reuters, Washington Post, Bloomberg and Associated Press, News Corp owns the top newspapers in three continents.
Consolidated ownership is not necessarily bad or uncommon; there are many industries where a few large corporations own most of the companies. For example, aircraft makers (Boeing, Airbus, Embraer and Bombardier), cars (GM, Ford, Chrysler Group, Toyota, Nissan and Honda), and beer (Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors) have thriving competitors and a streamlined infrastructure due to the limited ownership.
But media, especially news, is not like any other industry. It is an area where diversity of opinions, perspectives and styles are welcome. The more the variety, the more one can challenge information, vet sources, and get a holistic picture of current affairs, politics and society in general. Even entertainment media can produce more inclusive and varied programs without being affected by any agenda. As Bagdikian mentions, this “cartel-like relationship… leaves the majority of Americans with artificially narrowed choices in their media.”
With more diverse ownership and independent board of directors, the consumer will benefit more and have the freedom to choose from truly different sources, as opposed to having an illusion of choice.