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Is Diversity Dead? The Media Ownership Debate

by The Frustrated Journalist Sunday, Nov. 12, 2006 at 11:58 AM

The ethnic variety in American society is greater than any other country in the world and greater than it has been in the past. But you wouldn’t know it to see what’s offered in mainstream media or to look at who actually owns the media. // © 2006, Sasha A. Rae, All Rights Reserved

Traditionally speaking, the government charged the media with providing diverse and local coverage and coverage that served the public interest. That definitely is not the case today. Even if you would argue that network television has always had a distinct monochrome flavor to it, you can't deny that what we see on television isn't completely reflective of the surrounding culture.

According to El Diario, a Spanish-language publication, there are 42 million Latinos in America, yet only a minor scattering of English language television stories cover Latinos. Statistics from Media Alliance, 30-year-old media advocacy groups in Oakland, California, show that of all the TV stations in the US,

  • Less than 5% are owned by women,
  • Less than 3% are owned by people of color,
  • Less than 1% are owned by Latinos.

Their research also reveals that only a handful of major corporations own most of the media:

  • FIVE media conglomerates — Viacom, Disney, Time Warner, News Corp. and NBC/GE — control the four biggest television networks. That's the equivalent of 70 percent of the primetime television market share. They also have large holdings in:
    • Cable,
    • Radio,
    • Publishing,
    • Movie production and distribution,
    • Music, and
    • The Internet.
  • Clear Channel owns OVER TWELVE HUNDRED radio stations in the US.
  • There are 1500 newspapers in the US, but only 281 of them are independently owned. Most cities have only one main newspaper serving them.
    (From Media Alliance's "FCC in LA – Background and Talking Points" document.)

That means that most of the content we see and hear in the media is coming from just a few sources. To Media Alliance, this illustrates a trend towards homogenization of the news and an increasing lack of diversity in programming.

The FCC and advocates of loosening ownership restrictions disagree. In fact, they point to the increased variety of media options consumers have and highlight the fact that today there are so many more media choices than in the past. Bruce Owen, a Stanford University economist who represented ABC, CBS, and Fox at an FCC meeting in El Segundo, California last month, is one such advocate, according to a recent Multichannel News article. Owen maintains that every business seeks to integrate vertically and television networks are businesses. It only makes sense in a competitive media marketplace. FCC Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate seems to agree. In a lecture at the James H. and Mary B. Quello Center for Telecommunication Management & Law at Michigan State University, her closing remark, as posted on the FCC website, states that "we all share the ultimate objective: keeping America safe, connected, and competitive in the 21st century."

No concrete decisions have arisen out of the hearings yet and so the debate rages on.

© 2006, Sasha A. Rae, All Rights Reserved


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