In addition to these board linkages, the large media companies all do business with commercial and investment bankers, obtaining lines of credit and loans, and receiving advice and service in selling stock and bond issues and in dealing with acquisition opportunities and takeover threats. Banks and other institutional investors are also large owners of media stock.
In the early Is, such institutions held 44 percent of the stock of publicly owned newspapers and 35 percent of the stock of publicly owned broadcasting companies. These investors are also frequently among the largest stockholders of individual companies. For example, in II, the Capital Group, an investment company system, held 7. I percent of the stock of ABC, 6. These holdings, individually and collectively, do not convey control, but these large investors can make themselves heard, and their actions can affect the welfare of the companies and their managers.
If the managers fail to pursue actions that favor shareholder returns, institutional investors will be inclined to sell the stock depressing its price , or to listen sympathetically to outsiders contemplating takeovers. These investors are a force helping press media companies toward strictly market profitability objectives. So is the diversification and geographic spread of the great media companies. Many of them have diversified out of particular media fields into others that seemed like growth areas. Many older newspaper-based media companies, fearful of the power of television and its effects on advertising revenue, moved as rapidly as they could into broadcasting and cable TV.
Time, Inc. Only a small minority of the twenty-four largest media giants remain in a single media sector. The large media companies have also diversified beyond the media field, and non-media companies have established a strong presence in the mass media. The most important cases of the latter are GE, owning RCA, which owns the NBC network, and Westinghouse, which owns major television-broadcasting stations, a cable network, and a radio station network.
GE and Westinghouse are both huge, diversified multinational companies heavily involved in the controversial areas of weapons production and nuclear power. It may be recalled that from I to I, an attempt by International Telephone and Telegraph ITT to acquire ABC was frustrated following a huge outcry that focused on the dangers of allowing a great multinational corporation with extensive foreign investments and business activities to control a major media outlet. RCA and Westinghouse, however, had been permitted to control media companies long before the ITT case, although some of the objections applicable to ITT would seem to apply to them as well.
GE is a more powerful company than ITT, with an extensive international reach, deeply involved in the nuclear power business, and far more important than ITT in the arms industry. It is a highly centralized and quite secretive organization, but one with a vast stake in "political" decisions. GE has contributed to the funding of the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank that supports intellectuals who will get the business message across. With the acquisition of ABC, GE should be in a far better position to assure that sound views are given proper attention.
The lack of outcry over its takeover of RCA and NBC resulted in part from the fact that RCA control over NBC had already breached the gate of separateness, but it also reflected the more pro-business and laissez-faire environment of the Reagan era. The non-media interests of most of the media giants are not large, and, excluding the GE and Westinghouse systems, they account for only a small fraction of their total revenue. Their multinational outreach, however, is more significant. The television networks, television syndicators, major news magazines, and motion-picture studios all do extensive business abroad, and they derive a substantial fraction of their revenues from foreign sales and the operation of foreign affiliates.
The Murdoch empire was originally based in Australia, and the controlling parent company is still an Australian corporation; its expansion in the United States is funded by profits from Australian and British affiliates. The radio-TV companies and networks all require government licenses and franchises and are thus potentially subject to government control or harassment. This technical legal dependency has been used as a club to discipline the media, and media policies that stray too often from an establishment orientation could activate this threat. The media protect themselves from this contingency by lobbying and other political expenditures, the cultivation of political relationships, and care in policy.
The political ties of the media have been impressive. In television, the revolving-door flow of personnel between regulators and the regulated firms was massive during the years when the oligopolistic structure of the media and networks was being established. The great media also depend on the government for more general policy support.
All business firms are interested in business taxes, interest rates, labor policies, and enforcement and nonenforcement of the antitrust laws. GE and Westinghouse depend on the government to subsidize their nuclear power and military research and development, and to create a favorable climate for their overseas sales. The media giants, advertising agencies, and great multinational corporations have a joint and close interest in a favorable climate of investment in the Third World, and their interconnections and relationships with the government in these policies are symbiotic.
In sum, the dominant media firms are quite large businesses; they are controlled by very wealthy people or by managers who are subject to sharp constraints by owners and other market-profit-oriented forces; and they are closely interlocked, and have important common interests, with other major corporations, banks, and government. This is the first powerful filter that will affect news choices. Curran and Seaton give the growth of advertising a status comparable with the increase in capital costs as a factor allowing the market to accomplish what state taxes and harassment failed to do, noting that these "advertisers thus acquired a de facto licensing authority since, without their support, newspapers ceased to be economically viable.
With the growth of advertising, papers that attracted ads could afford a copy price well below production costs. This put papers lacking in advertising at a serious disadvantage: their prices would tend to be higher, curtailing sales, and they would have less surplus to invest in improving the salability of the paper features, attractive format, promotion, etc. For this reason, an advertising-based system will tend to drive out of existence or into marginality the media companies and types that depend on revenue from sales alone.
With advertising, the free market does not yield a neutral system in which final buyer choice decides. Even if ad-based media cater to an affluent "upscale" audience, they easily pick up a large part of the "downscale" audience, and their rivals lose market share and are eventually driven out or marginalized. In fact, advertising has played a potent role in increasing concentration even among rivals that focus with equal energy on seeking advertising revenue.
A market share and advertising edge on the part of one paper or television station will give it additional revenue to compete more effectively-promote more aggressively, buy more salable features and programs-and the disadvantaged rival must add expenses it cannot afford to try to stem the cumulative process of dwindling market and revenue share.
The crunch is often fatal, and it helps explain the death of many large-circulation papers and magazines and the attrition in the number of newspapers. From the time of the introduction of press advertising, therefore, working-class and radical papers have been at a serious disadvantage. Their readers have tended to be of modest means, a factor that has always affected advertiser interest. One advertising executive stated in I that some journals are poor vehicles because "their readers are not purchasers, and any money thrown upon them is so much thrown away.
As James Curran points out, with 4. The Herald, with 8. I percent of national daily circulation, got 3. Curran argues persuasively that the loss of these three papers was an important contribution to the declining fortunes of the Labor party, in the case of the Herald specifically removing a mass-circulation institution that provided "an alternative framework of analysis and understanding that contested the dominant systems of representation in both broadcasting and the mainstream press.
The idea that the drive for large audiences makes the mass media "democratic" thus suffers from the initial weakness that its political analogue is a voting system weighted by income! The power of advertisers over television programming stems from the simple fact that they buy and pay for the programs-they are the "patrons" who provide the media subsidy. The choices of these patrons greatly affect the welfare of the media, and the patrons become what William Evan calls "normative reference organizations," whose requirements and demands the media must accommodate if they are to succeed.
This is partly a matter of institutional pressures to focus on the bottom line, partly a matter of the continuous interaction of the media organization with patrons who supply the revenue dollars. As Grant Tinker, then head of NBC-TV, observed, television "is an advertising supported medium, and to the extent that support falls out, programming will change.
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Political discrimination is structured into advertising allocations by the stress on people with money to buy. But many firms will always refuse to patronize ideological enemies and those whom they perceive as damaging their interests, and cases of overt discrimination add to the force of the voting system weighted by income. Even before the program was shown, in anticipation of negative corporate reaction, station officials "did all we could to get the program sanitized" according to one station source.
With rare exceptions these are culturally and politically conservative. Large corporate advertisers on television will rarely sponsor programs that engage in serious criticisms of corporate activities, such as the problem of environmental degradation, the workings of the military-industrial complex, or corporate support of and benefits from Third World tyrannies.
Erik Barnouw recounts the history of a proposed documentary series on environmental problems by NBC at a time of great interest in these issues. Barnouw notes that although at that time a great many large companies were spending money on commercials and other publicity regarding environmental problems, the documentary series failed for want of sponsors. The problem was one of excessive objectivity in the series, which included suggestions of corporate or systemic failure, whereas the corporate message "was one of reassurance.
Advertisers will want, more generally, to avoid programs with serious complexities and disturbing controversies that interfere with the "buying mood.
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But even in these cases the companies will usually not want to sponsor close examination of sensitive and divisive issues-they prefer programs on Greek antiquities, the ballet, and items of cultural and national history and nostalgia. American civilization, here and now, is excluded from consideration. Airing program interludes of documentary-cultural matter that cause station switching is costly, and over time a "free" i.
Such documentary-cultural-critical materials will be driven out of secondary media vehicles as well, as these companies strive to qualify for advertiser interest, although there will always be some cultural-political programming trying to come into being or surviving on the periphery of the mainstream media. The media need a steady, reliable flow of the raw material of news.
They have daily news demands and imperative news schedules that they must meet. They cannot afford to have reporters and cameras at all places where important stories may break. Economics dictates that they concentrate their resources where significant news often occurs, where important rumors and leaks abound, and where regular press conferences are held. On a local basis, city hall and the police department are the subject of regular news "beats" for reporters. Business corporations and trade groups are also regular and credible purveyors of stories deemed newsworthy.
These bureaucracies turn out a large volume of material that meets the demands of news organizations for reliable, scheduled flows. Mark Fishman calls this "the principle of bureaucratic affinity: only other bureaucracies can satisfy the input needs of a news bureaucracy. This is important to the mass media. As Fishman notes, Newsworkers are predisposed to treat bureaucratic accounts as factual because news personnel participate in upholding a normative order of authorized knowers in the society. Reporters operate with the attitude that officials ought to know what it is their job to know….
This amounts to a moral division of labor: officials have and give the facts; reporters merely get them. Another reason for the heavy weight given to official sources is that the mass media claim to be "objective" dispensers of the news.
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Partly to maintain the image of objectivity, but also to protect themselves from criticisms of bias and the threat of libel suits, they need material that can be portrayed as presumptively accurate. This is also partly a matter of cost: taking information from sources that may be presumed credible reduces investigative expense, whereas material from sources that are not prima facie credible, or that will elicit criticism and threats, requires careful checking and costly research.
The magnitude of the public-information operations of large government and corporate bureaucracies that constitute the primary news sources is vast and ensures special access to the media. The Pentagon, for example, has a public-information service that involves many thousands of employees, spending hundreds of millions of dollars every year and dwarfing not only the public-information resources of any dissenting individual or group but the aggregate of such groups.
In I and , during a brief interlude of relative openness since closed down , the U. Writing back in I, Senator J. Fulbright had found that the air force public-relations effort in I involved I, full-time employees, exclusive of additional thousands that "have public functions collateral to other duties. There is no reason to believe that the air force public-relations effort has diminished since the Is. Note that this is just the air force.
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There are three other branches with massive programs, and there is a separate, overall public-information program under an assistant secretary of defense for public affairs in the Pentagon. To put this into perspective, we may note the scope of public-information operations of the American Friends Service Committee AFSC and the National Council of the Churches of Christ NCC , two of the largest of the nonprofit organizations that offer a consistently challenging voice to the views of the Pentagon.
Its institution-wide press releases run at about two hundred per year, its press conferences thirty a year, and it produces about one film and two or three slide shows a year. It does not offer film clips, photos, or taped radio programs to the media. The ratio of air force news releases and press conferences to those of the AFSC and NCC taken together are I50 to I or 2, to 1, if we count hometown news releases of the air force , and 94 to I respectively. Aggregating the other services would increase the differential by a large factor.
Only the corporate sector has the resources to produce public information and propaganda on the scale of the Pentagon and other government bodies. The number of individual corporations with budgets for public information and lobbying in excess of those of the AFSC and NCC runs into the hundreds, perhaps even the thousands.
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A corporate collective like the U. Besides the U. Chamber, there are thousands of state and local chambers of commerce and trade associations also engaged in public relations and lobbying activities. The corporate and trade-association lobbying network community is "a network of well over I50, professionals," and its resources are related to corporate income, profits, and the protective value of public-relations and lobbying outlays.
When the corporate community gets agitated about the political environment, as it did in the Is, it obviously has the wherewithal to meet the perceived threat. So did direct-mail campaigns through dividend and other mail stuffers, the distribution of educational films, booklets and pamphlets, and outlays on initiatives and referendums, lobbying, and political and think-tank contributions.
To consolidate their preeminent position as sources, government and business-news promoters go to great pains to make things easy for news organizations. They provide the media organizations with facilities in which to gather; they give journalists advance copies of speeches and forthcoming reports; they schedule press conferences at hours well-geared to news deadlines; they write press releases in usable language; and they carefully organize their press conferences and "photo opportunity" sessions. The large entities that provide this subsidy become "routine" news sources and have privileged access to the gates.
Non-routine sources must struggle for access, and may be ignored by the arbitrary decision of the gatekeepers. Because of their services, continuous contact on the beat, and mutual dependency, the powerful can use personal relationships, threats, and rewards to further influence and coerce the media. The media may feel obligated to carry extremely dubious stories and mute criticism in order not to offend their sources and disturb a close relationship. It is very difficult to call authorities on whom one depends for daily news liars, even if they tell whoppers.
Critical sources may be avoided not only because of their lesser availability and higher cost of establishing credibility, but also because the primary sources may be offended and may even threaten the media using them. Powerful sources may also use their prestige and importance to the media as a lever to deny critics access to the media: the Defense Department, for example, refused to participate in National Public Radio discussions of defense issues if experts from the Center for Defense Information were on the program; Elliott Abrams refused to appear on a program on human rights in Central America at the Kennedy School of Government, at Harvard University, unless the former ambassador, Robert White, was excluded as a participant; Claire Sterling refused to participate in television-network shows on the Bulgarian Connection where her critics would appear.
In the last two of these cases, the authorities and brand-name experts were successful in monopolizing access by coercive threats. Perhaps more important, powerful sources regularly take advantage of media routines and dependency to "manage" the media, to manipulate them into following a special agenda and framework as we will show in detail in the chapters that follow.
Part of this management process consists of inundating the media with stories, which serve sometimes to foist a particular line and frame on the media e.
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This problem is alleviated by "co-opting the experts"-i. In this way bias may be structured, and the supply of experts may be skewed in the direction desired by the government and "the market. This process of creating the needed body of experts has been carried out on a deliberate basis and a massive scale. Chamber of Commerce urging business "to buy the top academic reputations in the country to add credibility to corporate studies and give business a stronger voice on the campuses.
Edwin Feulner, of the Heritage Foundation-the public-policy area "is awash with in-depth academic studies" that have the proper conclusions. Many hundreds of intellectuals were brought to these institutions, where their work was funded and their outputs were disseminated to the media by a sophisticated propaganda effort.
The corporate funding and clear ideological purpose in the overall effort had no discernible effect on the credibility of the intellectuals so mobilized; on the contrary, the funding and pushing of their ideas catapulted them into the press. As an illustration of how the funded experts preempt space in the media, table I-4 describes the "experts" on terrorism and defense issues who appeared on the "McNeil-Lehrer News Hour" in the course of a year in the mid-Is.
We can see that, excluding journalists, a majority of the participants 54 percent were present or former government officials, and that the next highest category I5. The largest number of appearances in the latter category was supplied by the Georgetown Center for Strategic and International Studies CSIS , an organization funded by conservative foundations and corporations, and providing a revolving door between the State Department and CIA and a nominally private organization.
On such issues as terrorism and the Bulgarian Connection, the CSIS has occupied space in the media that otherwise might have been filled by independent voices. The mass media themselves also provide "experts" who regularly echo the official view. By giving these purveyors of the preferred view a great deal of exposure, the media confer status and make them the obvious candidates for opinion and analysis. Another class of experts whose prominence is largely a function of serviceability to power is former radicals who have come to "see the light. In a country whose citizenry values acknowledgement of sin and repentance, the turncoats are an important class of repentant sinners.
It is interesting to observe how the former sinners, whose previous work was of little interest or an object of ridicule to the mass media, are suddenly elevated to prominence and become authentic experts. We may recall how, during the McCarthy era, defectors and ex-Communists vied with one another in tales of the imminence of a Soviet invasion and other lurid stories.
They found that news coverage was a function of their trimming their accounts to the prevailing demand.
The steady flow of ex-radicals from marginality to media attention shows that we are witnessing a durable method of providing experts who will say what the establishment wants said. It may take the form of letters, telegrams, phone calls, petitions, lawsuits, speeches and bills before Congress, and other modes of complaint, threat, and punitive action.
It may be organized centrally or locally, or it may consist of the entirely independent actions of individuals. If flak is produced on a large scale, or by individuals or groups with substantial resources, it can be both uncomfortable and costly to the media. Positions have to be defended within the organization and without, sometimes before legislatures and possibly even in courts. Advertisers may withdraw patronage. Television advertising is mainly of consumer goods that are readily subject to organized boycott. During the McCarthy years, many advertisers and radio and television stations were effectively coerced into quiescence and blacklisting of employees by the threats of determined Red hunters to boycott products.
Advertisers are still concerned to avoid offending constituencies that might produce flak, and their demand for suitable programming is a continuing feature of the media environment. If certain kinds of fact, position, or program are thought likely to elicit flak, this prospect can be a deterrent. The ability to produce flak, and especially flak that is costly and threatening, is related to power. Flak from the powerful can be either direct or indirect.
The direct would include letters or phone calls from the White House to Dan Rather or William Paley, or from the FCC to the television networks asking for documents used in putting together a program, or from irate officials of ad agencies or corporate sponsors to media officials asking for reply time or threatening retaliation. The powerful can also work on the media indirectly by complaining to their own constituencies stockholders, employees about the media, by generating institutional advertising that does the same, and by funding right-wing monitoring or think-tank operations designed to attack the media.
They may also fund political campaigns and help put into power conservative politicians who will more directly serve the interests of private power in curbing any deviationism in the media. These may be regarded as institutions organized for the specific purpose of producing flak. Another and older flak-producing machine with a broader design is Freedom House. Take Facebook, for example. Two billion people around the world and million in the United States use Facebook to get their news, debate policy, join political movements and connect with friends and family.
The platform has become the substrate of our social interactions, the means by which human relationships are formed and maintained. Facebook is not just a carrier of social media, but an entirely new social medium. We need to understand how this new social medium works — how Facebook influences the relationships between its users and distorts the flow of the information among them.
In the case of Facebook, the machines are generally programmed to maximize user engagement — to show you whatever will make you click one more time, stay a little longer and come back for more. This kind of machine learning can produce unintended effects, with worrying consequences for public discourse. But these channels go only so far. Studying machines often requires the assistance of machines to perform larger-scale statistical analysis and testing.
Most directly, they risk a lawsuit by Facebook for breach of contract. And some have been told by Facebook to discontinue digital investigations that Facebook claimed violated its terms of service. If Facebook is committed to becoming more transparent, it should amend its terms of service to permit this important journalism and research.