The Sweetest Fruit of Power and Profit: Modern Media?

19 02 2010

Over the course of my reading Robert McChesney’s book, The Political Economy of Media, I have had to think about the current state of media in the United States. As seen in my post last week relating to the same book, clearly there are issues that could be interpreted as major problems with the current media environment. However, others may feel content with the current state of things as capitalist, free markets serve as the underlying basis of operations for media in this country.

Regardless of which side, if any, you feel most reflects your stance on this issue; several points mentioned in the book are worthy of exploration.

Increasing media conglomeration has largely occurred outside of public consciousness. It could be argued this is because mainstream media outlets, which reach the most people, do not cover these proceedings within the government hence the public is largely unaware. Even if that were a completely accurate argument, one fact does remain. This fact is one that really makes me cringe. When business leaders or politicians equate criticism of business practices to being unpatriotic. This, my friend, is a ridiculous argument. Democracy is meant to function by the people. Without public say, our country would not exist in the twenty-first century. By over simplifying the relations between media ownership, the public and criticism of media conglomeration as unpatriotic, this in itself runs contrary to the fundamental ideals that this country’s constitution is premised upon.

With that being said, I must take exception to some of McChesney’s own words. He does not get off scot free on this topic. On page 321 it is stated that “The global commercial media system is radical in that it will respect no tradition or custom, on balance, if it stands in the way of profits.” I find this quote rather ironic. The media industry itself is actively using the “custom” of patriotism in the United States to serve as a front for protection from criticism. Using a fundamental pillar of democracy to shield the media industry from the inherent checks and balances democracy is meant to actively utilize for public good is pitiful. It is unfortunate that the media industry acts cowardly by using democratic principles to protect their own isolated interests, whereas criticism of such measures is deemed unpatriotic. Furthermore, McChesney deserves to be chastised for demonizing the media industry in the aforementioned statement, painting the industry as an all-evil entity. He does not immediately follow the statement to point out the industry’s reliance on said principles for its own protection.

Another issue of concern dealt with in the latest chapters of McChesney’s book is context, context of information to be specific. Increasingly, McChesney claims, media outlets are trying to avoid providing contextual basis for stories. In essence, the stories presented are seen strictly as is without any understanding for the consumer to make sense of the story as it relates to much broader, possibly significant societal issues. Ted Turner, a media maven and entrepreneur, wrote in a 2004 column for the Washington Monthly magazine, why he was concerned about consolidation of the media industry. He furthered his point by referencing a quote from Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black commenting on the importance of accessible information from many sources:

“The First Amendment rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public.”

As the media industry consolidates, the diversity of information becomes endangered. Furthermore, without news stories expressed with regard to contextual background, the public is left unsure where to look or even unaware of what to look for. Currently, the lack of context can be seen in relation to Internet control within the media industry. When the topic surfaces in the news, it is almost always framed as a business story instead of a public interest story. In turn, the information is arguable exposed to those already in the know, whereas the public, who could be adversely affected by Internet ownership, are left scratching their heads. Connecting the dots between stories, showing the bigger picture and the potential implications, is not happening.

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