In the 1980's, the diversity in media was much greater than it is today, with about fifty companies controlling the majority of the news market. Even then, voices were raised over the problems with media concentration. Today, some 30 years later, they have all been merged down into only a handful of giant corporations.
As the number of companies has declined, so has the trust in news media. Today, trust is at record lows, with only a quarter of Americans under 50 years of age having some sort of trust in the mass media.
Only six large corporations own over 90% of all news media, while all independent media compete for the last 10% of the market.
So, why is this a problem?
It becomes a problem when the corporations that produce the news also have other monetary interests.
Consider this as an example: Leading up to the war in Iraq, NBC was owned by General Electric. General Electric supplied parts for almost every major weapon system used by the U.S. — including the Patriot and Tomahawk Cruise missiles, the Stealth bomber, and the B-52 bomber.
General Electric’s contracts with the U.S. military was worth billions of dollars. Clearly, they would financially benefit from a new war.
Did this affect the news reporting at the time? Did they help legitimize the war? There is a definite possibility that is the case, but it’s hard to prove. Even if it didn’t, just knowing that the owner of a major news outlet is benefiting from a war that they are promoting is deeply troubling.
Let’s look at another example.
During the primary elections last year, after the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, CNN put this headline on their website: “Clinton’s confident sweep.” Next to it, they had an online poll where 81% voted for Bernie Sanders.
Moreover, it wasn’t just CNN who did this; it was virtually every mainstream media outlet. Hillary was crowned the winner by the mainstream media, while Bernie won all online polls, Facebook, Twitter, and even offline focus groups.
As if this wasn’t enough, from the leaked DNC emails we can see that CNN gave Hillary Clinton the debate questions ahead of the debate, so that she could be better prepared.
Why did this happen? Did it have anything to do with CNN being owned by Time Warner, a company that also happened to be one of Hillary Clinton’s largest donors? Again, it’s hard to prove, but deeply troubling.
According to the Tyndall report, in 2016, the news on NBC, CBS, and ABC gave Hillary Clinton’s campaign 4 times more airtime than Bernie Sanders. Donald Trump got more than double the airtime compared to Clinton. In 2015, these numbers were even more skewed.
It’s hard to imagine that this didn’t have a large impact on the outcome of the election.
The mainstream media will never address these issues themselves. So, what can we, as news readers, do to fix it?
What we have to do is to redefine what is mainstream. We need to create our own news source. A news source that is controlled by real, ordinary people. When we grow it large enough, this will become the new mainstream.
It has never been more important to do this than it is now. If we want real change, we will not just have to replace the people in power, we will also need to fix the news.