Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Media Vultures Are Coming:
Freedom of Expression at Risk
By Ramzy Baroud
ccun.org, January 11, 2010
As you flip through a range of
channels on your TV or browse through a stack of newspapers and magazines
at a newsstand, you may feel lucky about living in a world where such a
plethora of viewpoints is available. It might also seem that the apparent
increase in media choices also increases the chances for the public
interest to be understood and served fairly. Unfortunately, this is far
from the case. The media world is shrinking by the day.
The coming year might go down in history as that of
major media consolidation, as in concentration of media ownership in the
hands of a few large conglomerates and powerful media moguls. Predictions
regarding mergers of media companies are very bleak, and to a degree
In his Los Angeles Times article “2010 predictions:
Another turbulent year ahead for media”, Joe Flint determines that the
debate in the media world “over which is king –content or distribution”
was settled in 2009. As a result, a new wave of mergers is likely to
follow. Giant media will guzzle other giant media, which had already
swallowed less enormous media companies, who in turn had .. well, you get
When US President Thomas Jefferson made his famous
assertion that “the only security of all is in a free press,” he hardly
had media consolidation in mind. Giant media companies reflect the giant,
albeit specific business interests of their owners and their advertisers.
Neither News Corp nor Viacom are dedicating their services to serving the
public. Such companies are dedicated only to financial growth, even at the
expense of what matters, or should matter most to the majority of their
consumers. In other words, while media companies proudly propagate the
value of democracy, as they gain from a very specific interpretation of
it, they are neither democratic nor representative.
democracy, mass participation or public interest be served by the Comcast
Corp.’s purchase of NBC’s Universal or the Disney Company’s acquisition of
Marvel Entertainment Inc.? The media industry has turned into a jungle,
where the survival of the fittest is determined not by value of content,
or by contribution to society, but rather by ‘smart’ business deals that
ensure survival in an increasingly demanding media market.
are changing. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was in fact
established with a clear mandate (the Communications Act of 1934) to
operate in the benefit of “public convenience, interest, or necessity.”
Whether the FCC lived up to that mandate or faltered in some of its
responsibilities, the fact remains that the FCC is now part and parcel of
the incessant efforts aimed at concentrating the ownership of the media in
fewer hands. More, even the courts that kept the FCC in check might
possibly concede in favor of more media consolidation.
for a flood of media consolidation deals,” Ira Teinowitz wrote in
theWrap.com. The reason is simple, but requires a short detour.
In the mid 1990’s, the FCC began relaxing its regulations on media
ownership. In 1996 a process of “deregulation” led to a wave of mergers,
as thousands of radio stations were sold to a few larger companies, and TV
ownership became more concentrated than ever before. In 2003, the FCC once
again moved to deregulate US laws regarding media, and this time the new
media ownership laws targeted local media across the US. Fortunately, a US
court moved in to thwart the FCC’s concessions that seemed to mainly serve
large media conglomerates. But the United States Court of Appeals for the
Third Circuit’s decision is being challenged once more.
economic recession in the US has hit many newspapers hard. One hundred and
fifty newspapers have either gone out of business altogether or are now
online, the Seattle PI and the Christian Science Monitor being major
examples. Thousands of media outlets across the US are barely breaking
even and many are struggling to come up with a viable business model, with
little hope on the horizon.
The time is ripe for media vultures
to make their move. In 2007, the court blocked the FCC’s attempt to change
the rules of ownership. Now it is reconsidering that decision. “A
three-judge panel of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia,
which had put the stay in effect…ordered the FCC and consumer groups to
‘show cause’ by mid January (2010) why the stay should not be dropped.”
If the rules are reversed, the mergers and further media
consolidation will affect the top twenty markets in the US. Knowing what
we know about the history of encroachment of large media companies, we can
only guess that this is just the beginning of further concentration of
media ownership, and subsequently the stifling of freedom of expression
for the large majority of people, especially those whose opinion is not
consistent with the business (or political and ideological) interests of
media owners and their benefactors.
Unfortunately, this trend is
not confined to the US. The economic recession is global, and giant media
companies are not operating within specific geographic boundaries.
“The Spanish media sector saw the start of a wave of consolidation amid
signs that at least two of them were close to announcing a tie-up,”
reported the Financial Times on December 17. This seems to be a repeated
media-related news story in various countries. More, the media
consolidation is felt in all media sectors, including film, music and
The continuation of this trend is terrible news for
public interest, civil society and democracy as a whole. We must resist
shameless efforts of the few at owning everything we see, hear and read.
By owning all the influences that shape our views of our surroundings and
the world at large, the public will soon be forced to surrender every
available outlet of expression, and eventually its very self-definition.
Yes, even the way we define ourselves will ultimately be determined by a
billionaire in some penthouse, who makes his wealth selling us packaged
lies as news and trash as entertainment.
- Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net)
is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of
PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is "My Father Was a Freedom
Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story" (Pluto Press, London), now available on