1. THE INFORMATION MONOPOLY
rapidly increasing centralization of media ownership raises critical questions
about the public's access to a diversity of opinion. Further, and perhaps not
surprisingly, the impact of this monopolization of information on a free society
continues to be ignored by the mass media.
In 1982, when media expert Ben
Bagdikian completed research for his book, THE MEDIA MONOPOLY, he found that 50
corporations controlled half or more of the media business. By December of 1986,
when he finished a revision for a second edition, the 50 had shrunk to 29. About
half a year later, when he wrote an article for EXTRA, the number was down to
He also warned that a number of serious Wall Street analysts of the
media are predicting that by the 1990s a half dozen giant firms will control most
of our media.
Bagdikian notes that of the 1700 daily papers, 98 percent
are local monopolies and fewer than 15 corporations control most of the country's
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 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.
Even worse, this situation is exacerbated by the conflict
of interest inherent in interlocking boards of directors. An earlier study, by
Peter Dreier and Steven Weinberg, found interlocking directorates in major newspaper
chains like Gannett which shared directors with Merrill Lynch, Standard Oil of
Ohio, 20th Century Fox, Kerr-McGee, McDonnell Douglas Aircraft, McGraw-Hill, Eastern
Airlines, Phillips Petroleum, Kellogg Company, and the New York Telephone Co.
most influential newspaper in America, THE NEW YORK TIMES, was interlocked with
Merck, Morgan Guaranty Trust, Bristol Myers, Charter Oil, Johns Manville, American
Express, Bethlehem Steel, IBM, Scott Paper, Sun Oil, and First Boston Corporation.
Inc.'s interlocks included Mobil Oil, AT&T, American Express, Firestone Tire
& Rubber Company, Mellon National Corporation, Atlantic Richfield, Xerox,
General Dynamics, and most of the major international banks.
Bagdikian's warning is ominous: "... a shrinking number of large
media corporations now regard monopoly, oligopoly, and historic levels
of profit as not only normal, but as their earned right. In the process,
the usual democratic expectations for the media -- diversity of ownership
and ideas -- have disappeared as the goal of official policy and, worse,
as a daily experience of a generation of American readers and viewers."
Equally disturbing, the prevailing concern with
the bottom line coupled with the traditional publishers' tendency to avoid controversy
fosters wide-spread self-censorship among writers, journalists, editors, and news
EXTRA!, June 1987, "The 26 corporations that
own our media," pp 1, 4, and MULTINATIONAL MONITOR, September 1987, "The
Media Brokers," pp 7-12, both by Ben Bagdikian; UTNE READER, Jan/Feb 1988,
"Censorship in Publishing," by Lynette Lamb.