Once upon a time in America, there was a large diversity of media sources. Every town had multiple independently-owned newspapers, radio stations, and television channels.
Over the years, however, as media ownership rules that prohibited any single company from exercising too much control over the news sources in any one market (or over too large a percentage of the nation’s overall market) loosened due to the pressure from large conglomerates, the consolidation of the information industry has resulted in just a few huge media companies now controlling the flow of news to the public.
While the dangers of this media consolidation may not be immediately obvious to the average consumer, the recent moves by the Sinclair Broadcast Group demonstrate just how harmful this concentration of information power can be.
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One of the primary benefits of the ownership of a large number of media outlets to the corporation in charge of them is the ability to lower costs by centralizing the work that formerly was done locally and individually at each outlet into an operation that eliminates jobs at the local level in favor of a smaller, efficient national organization.
This structure eliminates the diversity of local voices and opinions, replacing them with a single corporately-decided point of view.
The actions taken recently by Sinclair, the nation’s largest operator of TV stations, to ensure that all of their local news programs synchronize their content to toe the ultra-conservative company line shows how wealthy oligarchs can control the media messages that reach the viewing public and mimic the role of state broadcasters in attempting to restrict the information — and its interpretation — that is disseminated.
That danger was made manifest by the script that Sinclair management mandated that all of their local news outlets broadcast as a seemingly local promo, touting their news programs as an antidote to the “fake news” found on the internet, echoing the message tweeted by President Trump on an almost daily basis.
The fact that the owners of Sinclair are major supporters of the Trump agenda is no surprise, nor is their mission to overtake Fox News as the premier right-wing propaganda machine. It takes just one look at Deadspin‘s mega-mix of various local versions of the centrally mandated promo to grasp the true horror of Sinclair’s efforts.
— Deadspin (@Deadspin) March 31, 2018
With Sinclair poised to grow even larger as it awaits federal approval of its deal to purchase the TV assets of Tribune Media, it has a vested interest in keeping the Trump administration happy. Under current rules, Sinclair would have to sell off stations after the merger to stay within the anti-trust limits for the percentage of market share and advertising share within any given territory.
The Republican majority at the FCC is considering rule changes that could relax those regulations and allow Sinclair to keep more of the lucrative local channels, forcing its entire network of local news programs to act as defacto cheerleaders for the Trump agenda– a cynically savvy strategy to achieve their monopolistic aims.
With the loss of the diversity of opinion that a competitive media landscape offers, our nation risks the stifling of opposition to the conservative blueprint for the future. Until the Republicans are voted out and lose their majority control of the government, expect media consolidation to continue to harm the country. The question is whether the message opposing that consolidation can break through in a media environment primarily controlled by so few media conglomerates.