Media Ownership and Democracy

By Steve Hoenisch | Published Nov. 18, 2008 | Last Updated Nov. 18, 2008

Corporate control is ruining our daily newspapers -- I wrote that sentence to begin a book review in 1992. Now, in 2007, I find myself writing the same sentence like this: Corporate control has ruined our daily newspapers.

And just when the state of media control seemed hopeless, it got worse. The Federal Communication Commission, after holding sham public hearings in which nearly every citizen who testified spoke out against further media consolidation, passed a proposal by its chairman -- a red-tie wearing plutocrat -- to allow a corporation to own a television station and a newspaper in the same city.

In a cynically twisted argument, the commissioner, Kevin J. Martin, maintained in a press release published on the op-ed page of The New York Times that the FCC must change the cross-ownership rule to prop up the financial condition of newspapers because "newspapers are crucial to our democracy."

Yes, independent, community-owned newspapers are crucial to democracy. Even some corporate-owned papers such as The New York Times can play an important role -- when they do their job, which many of them haven't been doing for at least 8 years, and that's one of the reasons their readers are leaving them for other channels of information in droves.

Martin's argument is vapid because corporate ownership of newspapers, by its very nature, radically undermines democracy. Allowing corporations to own and control more media doesn't protect democracy, as Martin thinks, but erodes it. Newspapers like the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Oregonian, and The New York Post have been death for democracy in the United States. Their function is no longer that of a "watchdog and informer of the citizenry," as Martin writes, but quite the opposite.

Media conglomerates seek to manipulate citizens so that they can impose their matrix of plutocracy and unregulated capitalism on an underinformed or misinformed populace for corporate profit. Chomsky has called it "manufacturing consent."

But this story isn't just about cultural conformity. Like so much else in the past 8 years, it is really about economic royalism.

Based on what he says in his op-ed piece in The New York Times, the FCC chairman's worldview is that newspapers serve markets, not places where people live. Only places where people consume.

It's part of the Bush agenda to push through as much pro-business, anti-democracy policies as possible before the end of its term. In the meantime, the concentration of media ownership continues to increase, against what had been the long-standing policy of the FCC to prevent monopoly ownership of media.

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