Limitations of Media Cross-Ownership
Being designated as the Fourth Estate, the American media acclaimed and pride itself of sharing an equivalent respect, rights and power with the three branches of government namely the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary. As created by the United States Constitution, the press has significant impacts in American lives as well as performs a critical role and responsibility as a guardian that upholds U.S. democracy at all times. This duty is warranted by the First Amended to the U.S. Constitution which stipulates that both the American Senate and House of Representatives do not make and pass laws that restrict or curtail press freedom. Such immunity or liberty is an innate nature of the American media in order for the industry to provide a fair, true and accurate reporting of life’s events.
However, this same freedom entails responsibility within the industry and among its members. This is because it is through the same privilege and premise of upholding of the press’ rights that the industry’s obligations should never cease to exist. These duties include the press’ provision and continued adherence to diversity. Furnishing the public with the broadest means of disseminating information from various sources should exists along with media’s privileges. Hence, cross-media ownership, as one of its enterprising options, should still be subjected to limitations. Beyond media’s option to expand is its consideration on the availability of sources. Additionally, foremost the choice of some media organizations to merge with others is taking into account whether the welfare of the public is met with regards the diversity of sources. This is for the reason that restricting media monopoly will, in turn, results to a diverse media and that the people will not be dictated with what they will read, see and hear.
The Media Industry, An Overview
The American press traced its roots and evolution from print media with the publication of the first newspaper in Boston, Massachusetts in the last decade of the 17th century. Since then, the media industry has traveled a long way with the advent of other forms of print media such as magazines and eventually the coming and evolution of the broadcast media like radio and television. This industry development happened in a span of almost 50 years and provided the American people with guaranteed access to other media forms. Television saw the potential of a nationwide as well as global audience or market immediately after the World War II. Seeing television as more powerful, the original forms of media have defied their imminent downfall and diversified by using technological advancements such as satellite or the web. The last parts of the 20th century up to the beginning of the 21 century witnessed the fresh trends of interactive median which was ignited by the advancement of digital technology and the significantly flourishing unity of cable television, telephone and computer. This diversification or availability of other sources, in turn, has resulted into competition among the forms of media and was attributed to the eventual merging or cross-ownership within the industry. A debatable status of media cross-ownership is what the contemporary American media exemplifies. This is because while media merging is being subjected to limitations, its critics have disputed that such current business practice undermines the benefit of the public in terms of limited media sources (“The Media in the United States,” 2008).
Broadcast Media Limitations
Despite the fact that the broadcast media has apparently overruled the initial dominance and now threatens the survival of the print media, the former still has its own set of limitations. Since information and news were determined as the essential products of the industry, the limitation of broadcast media falls on the fact that it still does not provide for the real essence of hard and comprehensive news reporting. This is because the television and radio have apparently neglected their role as news providers and instead focused on offering entertainment as their means of business. Prior to the development of the industry, media concentrated itself with providing the public with news or current events reporting. This news concentration differentiates print from broadcast media. Since print media, newspapers in particular, rule the provision of news materials and contents, the rest of the media forms such as television and radio seem to just devote themselves with entertaining the public. This has made the critics of broadcast media to belittle its nature and capability as one of the components of the Fourth Estate (Cooper 19).
Cooper added that both the television and radio are comparatively ineffective conveyors of news information. He cited as an example the case of evening newscasts which, after removing their advertisements, can only occupy a little over half portion of any page of a broadsheet or full-sized newspaper. Additionally, a regular prime time news show of broadcast network just reports around not exceeding to 20 topics while a typical print materials such as newspaper or even magazine offers the public with a wide array various news and feature stories on a daily basis. Another limitation is with regards the period of presenting the information wherein a television’s main story or news is confined in approximately two minutes reporting while the print news carries around a more detailed and in-depth information. Moreover, television and radio news reports which were more occupied in entertaining the public depict their primary function of provider of information (Cooper 19).
The same situation also holds true with the internet, satellite and cable mediums because they offer little, if any, hard news and detailed information. Despite the fact that the cable TV business has been considered as an additional voice in the field of media, it has proven to be not as an absolute source of information and even local news. In fact, through the years, cable TV has struggled for the availability of local television stations. The reality that not all can afford and have access to cable TV made the role of cable television, as a provider of local information and news, even more limited. A very small percentage of cable television organizations cite and utilize existing local cable channels thus the provision of news to the local public is restricted by replicating only one of the news shows of major broadcast organizations (Cooper).
As far as the role of the internet, Cooper further disclosed that its purpose of giving an independent news source is likewise not being served and limited. This restriction is evident with an analysis of the web sites of the ruling television news shows. This is because it turned out that web’s news function is even smaller as compared with the regular television show and what more with a print source like newspapers. Due to the said limitation, even the small percentage or number of internet surfers, who said that they use the a particular website as a news source, is significantly smaller. In reality, the respondents of the internet medium are likely to visit the web sites of the reputable and established sites of newspapers or television shows. Hence, the internet and cable television materials, as sources of in-depth news and comprehensive information, are discounted and therefore support the fact as regards the limitations of the broadcast media (Cooper).
Print and Broadcast Media Cross-Ownership
With the apparent decline of the newspaper industry and limitations of the broadcast media, the merging or cross-ownership among the various media forms is now being considered. Additionally, technological advances such as the onset of the era of electronic media have resulted into this kind of convergence among print and broadcast networks. It is unfortunate to note, however, that media cross-ownership instead of advancing the interest and purpose of the industry has fallen prey to the need of media organizations to economically survive. Knee (2003) wrote that “with the onset of the age of electronic media,
industry economics, rather than philosophy, gave rise to the current ideal of objective journalism” (Knee 18).
The 20th century has presented that the electronic media, specifically the television, has steadily crumbled the control of the print media as the primary source of current information. In turn, newspaper organizations have now more difficulty in gaining profit because by principle, the print media is inclined to target specific markets such as politically-minded readers or those who are out for comprehensive reporting rather than mere entertainment. It is now apparent that print organizations have started to engage and offer their materials to a wider and diversified public thus the merging or cross-ownership of a newspaper company and television or radio network (Knee).
With this business or economic strategy, a merged media organization becomes susceptible to compromise the basic ideals or principles of the the journalism profession. This is because of the possibility that the cross-ownership between a print and broadcast companies may lead to prejudice if the owners of the merged organizations have inclination with other interests and purposes. One particular example of such situation is in times of elections wherein enterprising politicians, in an effort to earn votes through media publicity, ventured into media business by having shares with both newspaper and a television or radio organization. This is not far from reality as evidenced by the history of American election where there are apparent political completions within the industry in order to meet the owners’ personal interests and at the same time get a bigger share of the market.
Media Ownership Limitations
As previously stated, every privilege entails responsibility and that every right has a corresponding limitations. The United States Supreme Court has time and again stressed that the interest of the public, as regards their access to media, should always prevail the industry’s survival efforts. In fact, this premise has long been guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution “declaring the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public” (Cooper 1).
Consistent with this provision is the industry regulating limiting cross-ownership and merging among media organizations in order to best promote the interest and benefit of the public. Beyond upholding this policy or rule is the principle that the broadest possibility of having an information dissemination coming from various media sources is necessary in upholding and protecting the welfare and interest of the public. However, the advent and eventual growth of the media industry as well as the evident need to survive weakened the supposedly strict enforcement of the First Amendment policy. In effect, a neglected regulation has also resulted into concentration or monopoly of the industry which is detrimental to the public. Hence, the promotion of loose restrictions on media cross-ownership will invite for the opportunity of more congregated or ownership monopoly by influential and affluent media empires. This, in turn, results to a damaging deprivation of public’s right to an unrestricted media accessibility as well as an intense loss of diversity of information and news sources. This, in essence, explains and serves the very purpose of limiting cross-ownership of media organizations (Cooper 8).
The existence and continued permission of the economic practice of media cross-ownership or merger is totally not in accordance with American laws particularly with journalism principle. While the survival of the media industry was attributed to such kind of business effort, it should always be the best interest of the majority or the public that should be uphold at all times. This leads to the point that there is indeed a need to limit media concentration just to be able to preserve the inherent right and benefit of the public to have a diverse sources of entertainment specially news information. Adhering to this principle will allow the people to have their required and unbiased access to information and not be dictated with what they will have to read, see and hear.
Cooper, Mark. “Promoting the Public Interest Through Media Ownership Limits: A Critique of the FCC’s Draft Order Based on Rigorous Market Structure Analysis and First Amendment Principles.” May 2003. Consumer Federation of America. 15 July 2008 <www.consumerfed.org/pdfs/FCCcritique.05.21.03.pdf >.
Knee, Jonathan. “Should We Fear Media Cross-Ownership?” Summer 2003. Social Science Research Network. 15 July 2008 <http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm? abstract_id=505602#PaperDownload>.
“The Media in the United States: Introduction.” May 2008. U.S. Diplomatic Mission to Germany. 15 July 2008 <http://usa.usembassy.de/media.htm>.