The Problem with Media Ownership

Consider for a minute that the majority of news media agencies today are owned by a small handful of individuals or corporations. 



The above infographic quite clearly illustrates the virtual monopoly that these small handful of corporations has over our mass media channels. The question is, what effects does this concentration of media ownership have on the ways in which media news agencies generate and report news stories? 

The most apparent issues are those related to ideas of the political economy. Firstly, it is argued that with such a small handful of companies and corporations in control of the public airwaves, that the interests of the minority elite are inevitably promoted over the interests of the people at large. With that in mind, the increasing commercialisation of the news industry and the media in general mean that media news agencies today are primarily loyal to sponsors (Advertisers/government) and these interests take precedence over responsible news reporting and public interest.

How can these interests manifest?  

  1. Media owners/sponsors can choose to suppress or ignore news stories that do not serve their interest.
  2. Journalists and their reports may be directly sponsored by parties who are the subject of their journalism leading to reports which actually favor the sponsor, have that appearance, or are simply a repetition of the sponsors opinion.
  3. News stories are reported in such a manner as to favour media owners/sponsors interests. 

What do you think about the implications of media ownership and its effects of news reporting? Your comments below 





14 thoughts on “The Problem with Media Ownership

  1. Unfortunately, this problem of media ownership is very true to a large extent in Malaysia’s context. As a Malaysian residing in the country, I cannot help but agree that our national news in the media forms of television (local channels RTM, TV Tiga, etc) and newspapers (The Star, Utusan, Berita Harian) and maybe the radio perhaps
    are somehow owned the ruling party as of today and hence, they are more or less owned by the government, at least for now. Take the most circulated English newspaper in Malaysia The Star for example, it is majority-owned by the Malaysia Chinese Association (MCA) which is the second largest ruling party in the Barisan Nasional alliance. No doubt there is a heavy influence in how news will be portrayed and be published in The Star, where the agenda of new publishing would most likely be skewed to portray the local ruling party in a more positive light or sometimes to the extent of even glorifying their ‘activities’. The Star remains a very useful platform for the ruling party to promote themselves to a certain extent.

    While I would agree with most of what you have mentioned in the above blog post, I would still like to believe or at least have some faith in, though not entirely, but with a pinch of salt that there are those out there who still faithfully published ‘the truth’ and also to portray transparently on any particular news event. After all, they are supposed to perform their role as the fourth estate of democracy, where their primary responsibilities lie with being the watchdog of the people whereby they are supposed to conduct a public check on the government and not be influenced by any owners or other sorts of ulterior motives. In this case, I would give the benefit of the doubt to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that they do try their very best to at least perform their role as the fourth estate. What do you think about the BBC?
    Do correct me if I am wrong please.

  2. That you put the words truth in quotation marks, even whilst arguing that it is an ever present element in news reporting today speaks volumes. Simply put, the truth is subjective, it is malleable.
    The old saying goes that “history is written by the winners”. A 21st century update might read “The Truth is written by Media owners”. It certainly doesnt have quite the same ring, but it nevertheless conveys what i believe is the truth behind the way media news agencies operate today.
    No doubt i agree with you that the role of the media and the press is to serve as our watchdogs, guardians of our democracy and the protectors of our liberties, but how often do we see MAINSTREAM MEDIA sources performing this role today?
    Lets look at the example of the N.S.A. leak earlier this year. Although The New York Times(NYT) is currently one of the major sources along with The Guardian for Snowden Leaks, in recent interviews, Mr. Snowden has said that he had contacted the NYT nearly a year earlier but they had sat on the leaks and avoided publishing them, leading him to lose faith in the newspaper. In fact, the NYT editorial board has implicitly told future sources of secret information that they will not protect them under government pressure. Is this the conduct of what is supposed to be the gold standard in bias-free, independent journalism, and consequently one of the main protectors of our freedoms?
    As for the BBC, that it is not owned by any corporate body with commercial interests is not necessarily an indicator of bias-free journalism. While they certainly do not engage in the grossly partisan style of news reporting endorsed by networks such as Fox News, the recent allegations of that the network helped to cover up the Jimmy Saville sex scandal, while relatively minor(absolutely no pun intended) just goes to show that mainstream media news sources today arent our best sources for what you call, the “truth”.

  3. I totally agree that media ownership causes biased perspective, that is one of the reasons why I don’t necessarily trust one single news source without confirming it to other news sources. And I’m pretty sure that a lot of people feel the same, since now we have as you said on your previous post, citizen journalism. Even so, people can’t write a text without being biased to a certain belief or value, but I guess it is just the nature of it. It’s just that the old media only allows the big players, the dominant groups to “brainwash” society with their perspectives, while these days we have social media where it allows everyone who has access to it to think more freely and be able to have their own say.

  4. Everything you’ve said in your post have happened some time or another. I mean, when you have the power to reach so many people at once it’s hard not to abuse such power right?

    That’s why I think so many people go on blogs and social media to get some of their news. Guerrilla journalism and citizen journalism gives the public a new perspective on what’s happening around the world.

    I know a friend who’s hates Natalie Portman because of her beliefs on the Palestine/Israel war. People generally need to read both side of the story before they make judgement. Natalie Portman might say one thing, someone might say another. Who is right and who’s wrong? There are too many grey areas when it comes to news.

    Also there is a saying “history is for the winners”. On the flip side of that comment, we also like to see people fall. It’s the “tall poppy syndrome”. People nowadays tend to gravitate towards negative news. I believe that mass media news agency have a responsibility in keeping their readers in mind as well as their advertisers and sponsors. What if one of their news piece causes an uprising (I’m sure that’s happened many many times)?

    • Well, lets look at your idea of a news piece/story causing an uprising from the prism of two different examples.
      If you recall, several years ago, a Danish cartoonist drew a cartoon depicting Muhammad the prophet which caused outrage in the muslim world. While i do believe in freedom of press, in this particular case, i think the Danish cartoonist should have practiced self-censorship simply because depictions and representations of Muhammad are strictly forbidden in Islam and thus, very offensive for many Muslims. Why draw the ire of the Islamic world for what was basically a punchline? Quite simply, the cartoon served no great purpose, so there was no need to step on toes.
      Now on the other hand, lets look at Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the two journalists responsible for reporting on the watergate break-in and other Nixon administration related crimes. True, it did not cause an uprising, but it caused a standing president of the United States to resign, something that was unprecedented.
      So the point I’m trying to make is there are the “right” types of uprisings to trigger and there are the “wrong” kinds of uprisings. As Justin points out in a comment above
      “they(the media) are supposed to perform their role as the fourth estate of democracy, where their primary responsibilities lie with being the watchdog of the people whereby they are supposed to conduct a public check on the government and not be influenced by any owners or other sorts of ulterior motives”

      In performing this duty, uprisings will inevitably occur. To quote Thomas Jefferson, “occasionally, the tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of tyrants and patriots”

  5. It is not uncommon to see the integrity of news published through the mass media to be biased and divisive in nature due to the affiliations with certain parties which would want their self-interests to be served above everything else. The media after all is a powerful tool and as such is no wonder that it is questionable as to how some news are reported so as to influence the perception of the public towards a certain subject matter.

    Speaking as a Malaysian, this is very true as can be seen in our recent General Elections where the ruling coalition and its related parties aka The Government has fully utilized its interests in mainstream media companies which they substantially own to influence the public with the hopes of securing votes. To a certain extent, I agree with your point that sometimes certain news which are perceived to be negative and detrimental to the sponsors would be ignored and not highlighted although they are crucial to the general public in forming an opinion towards the subject matter.

    However, what is important to note is that there is a shift of consumption from traditional media sources to alternative media sources. For example, a recent study conducted by Nielsens have indicated that after the recent Malaysian General Elections, there was a significant dip in terms of readership for certain mainstream newspapers commonly affiliated with the ruling coalition. Media analysts believe that this is a result of a political backlash due to the lopsided reporting during the campaigning period. This would mean that continuous biased/ unethical reporting would certainly affect the consumption of the media given that the alternative media sources are easily accessible. Having said that, there is also a concern where the integrity of the news published by these alternative sources may also be biased. We also see a rise in terms of lawsuits against media companies for defamation and irresponsible reporting. These are important implications which media companies need to seriously look into to stay as a going concern and relevant.

    All in all, given that information can be obtained with a single click of the mouse, consumers need to be more intelligent when it comes to the news reported on both the traditional and alternative media channels. They would need to keep an open mind and be more skeptical before forming an opinion towards a subject matter. If that is possible, then I believe in the long run, market forces will come into play and the media companies will eventually have to get things right or risk being put out of business.

    But then again, if the sponsors have deep pockets and direct access to taxpayer funds, then I guess market forces will be irrelevant.

    Oh well.

  6. I think in this era, when news/information are presented to the masses in a myriad of media platforms (some “legitimate”, some more personal), it is very much up to the readers to maintain a sense of skepticism while absorbing pieces of information that pique their interest. While it is the inherent duty of news agencies to report news in an objective manner, it remains that many agencies are driven first and foremost by interests of stakeholders that exhibit significant power over their operations (i.e. via sponsorships, governmental influences, etc.). This even applies to the advertisements published in their respective media.

    Similarly, information from blogs, NGOs, Twitter, Youtube, etc. usually reflect personal interests and topics held close to the writers’ hearts. More often than not, the writers have their own interpretations of an event, their personal biases and perceptions. Sometimes, the information disseminated would deliberately omit essential details or carry motives in the ways in which the articles are written to generate intended reactions from the public, and to skew the readers’ understanding of an event.

    As the saying goes, there are often two (or many) sides to a story. Information, even news stories, are all inevitably written from the writers’/agencies’ points of view. With all the accessibility provided by the Internet, it is ultimately up to us readers to question what we read and to find out the different sides of a story before we are able to claim to be in the position to pass informed judgments. Otherwise, we are better off taking “news stories”, especially politically-driven ones at face value in order to avoid falling victim to propaganda. In light of this, with all the different media spewing information at us, we as readers are responsible for the information we believe in and subsequently act on. The truth is out there somewhere. We just have to do some digging to find/validate it ourselves sometimes.

  7. This is clearly apparent in Malaysia, with all (if not nearly all) mainstream news sources being controlled by the government. Having actually worked in one, I know for a fact that a clear level of censorship and control exists when selecting and generating content.

    Friends from a local radio station initially had content that (as the government puts it) bordered on the lines of sedition and provoking racial sentiments told me of the constant threats that they faced – more often than not, that of revoking their license to broadcast.

    Another news report that surfaced recently was of Bernama’s coverage of GE13, and how over 90% (if i’m not mistaken) of their reports centered around the ruling coalition – either around their supposedly stellar performance the past few years, or how their promises of change will come to fruition once elected. Nothing negative – whilst the 10% of the coverage offered to the opposition was the exact opposite.

    It is refreshing to know, however, that there are some who still dare to challenge the status quo of what can or cannot be reported. The question remains – Who watches our watchmen? L

  8. I think it most defnitely is a major issue because these companies indirectly have control over public perceptions. Although people have a choice of whether or not to believe information given by the media, the majority are prone to taking in information without critically thinking about its source. Understandable that it would be taxing to have to constantly filter every single information that we receive. It’s especially difficult when the media uses emotions as part of their strategy – because fact is we aren’t the “rational man” traditional economists think we are. We’re emotional beings, and our judgements are often swayed by that.

    In Australia, the media’s controlled by three main companies. From their news content, you can definitely observe a pattern showing which company has already formed an allegiance with a certain political party. That’s the peril we face today.

  9. We discussed this in Jim’s class last night. It’s funny how narrow-minded we tend to be sometimes, although with the advent of social media, we are becoming one with reality. That is, we tend to double-check, sometimes even triple-check what we’ve heard, just to assure ourselves the truth has been told. Although I must say, I do believe (or at least have faith) that there are a handful of people who still go that extra mile to ensure that only the truth has been published, with no bias and propaganda.

  10. A critical advantage of social media is that it allows you to access and read a number of sources so you can formulate your own opinion. More the fool you if you take one source to be ‘the whole truth and nothing but the truth’. In Australia, I think you would find many extremely insulted journos if you proposed that what they write appeases sponsors. Most journos I know are fiercely independent and will write what they believe is a balanced account of the story at hand.

  11. It is really sad but this is definitely true. Whoever own the media owns public knowledge in a way. The masses will believe what they see on tv or read in the paper, so the media owners are ultimately powerful and free to only tell one side of the story. And the problem is that these owners are also invested in big business. Environmental issues get ignored, global warming gets denied, carbon ‘tax’ is stigmatised so that the people turn on these issues or never hear about them, and corporate greed – polluting and ruining the environment goes on, favouring profits. The same happens in politics, politicians in cahoots with big business get extremely favourable media coverage.

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