Media and Democracy

Facts on Media in America: Did You Know?

 

TELEVISION

 

FACT: Comcast owns NBC; Disney owns ABC; and News Corporation owns Fox Broadcasting Company. 

 

Comcast owns NBC, Telemundo, E Entertainment, Versus, 14 television stations, Universal Pictures, and Hulu. Disney holdings include 10 television stations, 277 radio stations, ABC, ESPN, A&E, the History Channel, Lifetime, Discover magazine, Bassmaster magazine, Hyperion publishing, Touchstone Pictures, Pixar Animation, and Miramax Film Corp.  Viacom owns 10 television stations, The Movie Channel, Comedy Central, BET, Nickelodeon, TV Land, MTV, VH1, and Paramount Pictures. CBS owns 30 TV stations, Smithsonian Channel, Showtime, The Movie Channel and Paramount Network Television.  News Corp. owns 27 television stations, the Fox Network and Fox News Channel, FX, National Geographic Channel, The Wall Street Journal, TV Guide, the New York Post, DirecTV, the publisher HarperCollins, film production company Twentieth Century Fox and the social networking website MySpace. Time Warner owns HBO, CNN, the Cartoon Network, Warner Bros. Time magazine, Turner Broadcasting and DC Comics.

 

Currently, six major companies control most of the media in our country.  The FCC could decide to relax media ownership rules, which would allow further consolidation and put decisions about what kinds of programming and news Americans receive in even fewer hands.

 

FACT:  Since 1995, the number of companies owning commercial TV stations declined by more than 40 percent.

 

If the FCC votes to relax media ownership limits, it could further erode diversity of ownership at the local level and increase the influence of large media conglomerates.  

 

CABLE

 

FACT:  Three media giants own all of the cable news networks.  Comcast and Time Warner serve about 35 percent of cable households.

 

Many proponents of deregulation site the expanded numbers of cable stations to argue that media sources are more diverse than they once were. The reality is that -- while there may be more stations -- they are still controlled by a small number of media companies.

 

FACT: Cable TV rates have jumped by more than 90 percent since the Telecom Act of 1996.

 

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was, in part, meant to increase competition in the cable industry. The Act was heavily influenced by industry lobbyists and has had the opposite effect.

 

RADIO

 

FACT: The Telecommunications Act of 1996 lifted ownership limits for radio stations, leading to incredible consolidation of radio station ownership. One company alone, Clear Channel Inc., owns 850 radio stations across the country. Before the change, a company could not own more than 40 stations nationwide. 

Several large stations owned by Clear Channel briefly banned the music of the Dixie Chicks because of their critical comments about then-President George W. Bush.  Stations owned by Infinity have also banned certain musicians based on their political views.

INTERNET

 

FACT: Major corporations, including News Corp., Comcast-NBC Universal, Time Warner, the New York Times, Disney, and Gannett dominate the top Internet news sites. 

EFFECT on DEMOCRACY

 

FACT: The public owns the airwaves and the FCC grants licenses to broadcasters with the understanding they will serve the public interest.

 

To their corporate owners, media outlets do not exist to promote the public interest; they exist to make profits. But media companies don't manufacture widgets; they provide information. And information from diverse, competitive, and independent sources is vitally important to the health of a democracy.

 

FACT: The entertainment industry – television, motion picture companies, music – has put $283.5 million into federal elections since 1990; in just the past three years (2008-10) the industry has spent roughly that much again on lobbying. 

 

With their political clout, media giants have the ability to make their case heard at the FCC, the White House and Capitol Hill. The concerns of average citizens do not get the same attention from key policymakers.

 

 

"It is the purpose of the First Amendment to preserve an uninhibited marketplace of ideas in which truth will ultimately prevail, rather than to countenance monopolization of that market, whether it be by the Government itself or a private licensee. It is the right of the public to receive suitable access to social, political, esthetic, moral, and other ideas and experiences which is crucial here. That right may not constitutionally be abridged either by Congress or by the FCC."
--U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark 1969 case of Red Lion v. FCC


 

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