The Impact of Media Consolidation on Information
Consolidation of media sources in Canada and around the world gives undue control and influence of the information to a small number of corporations, from which they may shape public perception. Corporations defending the consolidation of media would say that in a free-market economy, companies should have the opportunity to prosper because they are stronger when they have diversification of media and economies of scale. Sceptics would counter that it limits the diversity of opinion and flow of credible information to the general public.
Through an analysis of traditional media ownership and various assets, the danger of media oligopoly will be evident.
Today there are small groups of people who have the power through large media conglomerates, to influence a large number of people, and they have the means to do so through a network of media corporations, which touch a variety of different fields. A potentially dangerous situation occurs when media sources are controlled to further the interest of management.
Corporations have the power to control information not only nationally but internationally as well, which is a threat to the liberty of expression and diversity of information. One prime example is NewsCorp, the most influential media corporation in the world.
‘In short, News Corporation is the most global and the most competitive media and entertainment company on earth. Everyday, we reach more than a billion people through our television, films, cable, books, newspapers, satellite technology and digital media. And despite turmoil in the markets and revolutionary changes that are transforming our sector, I have tremendous confidence in our future’
– Rupert Murdoch (2008)
Rupert Murdoch has used his position as founder and chairman at NewsCorp as a platform to voice his conservative, right-wing ideologies, and to manipulate information even in tender political times. He uses his media empire personally by willingly distorting information to influence his consumers. ‘Fox had relentlessly portrayed [Obama] as suspicious, foreign, fearsome – just short of a terrorist’2. Media is supposed to be factual and balanced, but here we have a major media empire that goes out of its way to distort the perception of an important political candidate and influence the public illegitimatly, based on personal bias. This an excellent example of abuse of control of the media and insight into the dangers of media consolidation.
What is transpiring globally is also happening in Canada. We have a unique broadcasting situation in Canada because of our proximity to the powerful US media market. There are only a handful of large media network corporations in Canada; Ted Rogers-Rogers Communications, Conrad Black-Hollinger Corp, and Izzy Asper-CanWest Corp have made the industry famous. However, in Canada, with the pervasiveness of intruding American media, we must have a delicate balance between having a strong national media and a broad range of information and perspective.
“The author of a new book about media tycoon Izzy Asper says Asper bought more than a dozen daily papers from Conrad Black’s company in 2000 because he wanted to influence national affairs.3”
Izzy Asper ran for the Liberal Party leadership in Manitoba in 1973 and throughout his life maintained a ‘right-libertarian strain’. It’s clear from this that he had a firm political belief during his life. Having a multimedia baron in such close control of information while maintaining a strong affiliation with a politcal party, raises obvious concerns about unbiased reporting.
“Izzy Asper bought the Hollinger assets, which included Web portals and weekly papers, at the top of the market just as the dot-com bubble was bursting. As soon as he got those papers, he tried to dictate what they should say 3”
Unique to Canada is the Broadcasting Act (1991), which requires an individual to obtain a restricted licence to broadcast. The act prevents grassroots competition, and is harbouring and encouraging media consolidation and also securing or assisting Big Media in keeping competition scarce.
“Changes to the Broadcasting Act, passed 5 December 1990, were [also] condemned as possibly permitting more parliamentary intrusion in broadcasting policy.4” [Creery] concludes that the planned changes are poorly motivated and could have dire consequences. “The new broadcasting act is a lobbied law, representing a consensus of special interests, brokered by the politicians… largely designed by cultural bureaucrats… the public interest in freedom of broadcating is forgotten. 4”
The Broadcasting Act governs and monitors broadcasting activity and regulates the distribution of licences. The act is alleged to be of private interest, as it prevents competition and acts as a barrier for new broadcasting networks from starting up and sharing alternative views and information. In order to compete with the strong American networks from the south, our Canadian media corporations must also be strong and prosperous. However, we also must be concerned that the strength of these corporations does not interfere with intelligent, factual reporting.
Corporations will argue that in order to do business most efficiently, media consolidation is required to keep media sources alive. In a free-trade market, they argue that in this industry you must expand and consolidate or go under.
“In order to grow, and ultimately to survive, Canadian media companies like CanWest need additional flexibility to acquire strategic positions in broadcasting assets located in other countries. Canada is a big country but a small media market, so cross-ownership and access to foreign capital are needed if Canadian companies are going to succeed on a global scale.” 5
In order to survive, they insist that they must be able to expand to compete in a global market. The highly competitive business of media consolidation requires and has forced companies like Rogers and Bell to grow exponentially as media becomes more diversified. The corporations defending the consolidation of media argue that it is uneconomic to have only independent media sources. With larger size, there is efficiency and with it the opportunity to grow and to prosper with higher standards and greater access to information, that will enable and encourage them to invest in new technology and innovation.
“Cross-media ownership is about adding value and improving quality to ensure that there are Canadian voices in an increasingly borderless media market. If we artificially chop the Canadian media market into uneconomic pieces, then Canadian media will not be able to compete with media from everywhere that will be coming into Canada, and that will ultimately lead to a reduced ability to tell Canadian stories to Canadians and to the world.” 5
As media becomes a consolidated enterprise, it has lost much of the divergent opinion. The pervasive biases they illustrate has interfered on the standards of journalism. Cross-ownership provides media corporations the power to influence many different sources of information. It potentially allows the ability to suppress divergent opinion and reporting within their network. This is ‘media bias’, which has grown as media has consolidated. This prevents alternate discussion or information from being published. The end result is generic self-interest, corporate-influenced news. The outlook and discussion are respective to the network ideology.
The consolidation of media and the control that corporations hold raises many concerns in such an important industry. Not only does it dilute many vital opinions from being heard, but it also grants the power to manipulate and communicate their own agendas. The editorial aspect of controlled media takes away from the reality and replaces it with idealistic bias. When a major media conglomerate attempts to portray a presidential candidate as a quasi-terrorist, then we have a major problem with truth and bias. Our Federal government issued policies that favour the media corporations in power and seek stability and reliability as a product of media condensation. The citations have also illustrated the dangers and the current realities consolidated media and its influence. The examples show media power can be easily abused whether part of a political agenda or otherwise. As members of the public, it is important to be vigilant and sceptical of information and how major media outlets portray it.
 Murdoch, Rupert. “Chairman’s Address to the 2008 Annual Meeting of Stockholders.” News Corporation (2008): http://www.newscorp.com/news/news_395.html
2 Wolff, Michael. ” http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/sep/03/uselections2008.barackobama .” The Guardian UK (2008):
3 Newman, Peter C. ” http://www.straight.com/article-175437/izzy-asper-sought-influence .” Izzy Asper Sought Influence (2008):
4 Russell, Nick. “Morals and the Media.” Ethics in Canadian Journalism (1994): pg.74 http://books.google.ca/books?id=z-Rcsmjjuh8C&printsec=frontcover#PPA74,M1
5 Elliot, Geoffrey. “Executives defend Cross-Media Ownership.” CanWest, Bell Canada (2002) http://www.friends.ca/news-item/6447 Vancouver Sun
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