My Journalism Ethics course was recently taken over by guest professor Dan Kennedy for several weeks. Besides being a professor, Kennedy is a commentator for WGBH, a panelist on “Beat the Press” and previously wrote for The Guardian and The Boston Phoenix.
In our first class, Kennedy talked about corporate ownership of news organizations.
Part of what we talked about in class was millionaire ownership versus corporate ownership of these types of organizations. While there are ethical considerations to think about for each of them, I have less qualms about millionaire ownership than corporate ownership.
Six corporations own a majority (90 percent) of the media outlets in America: The Walt Disney Company, Time Warner, Comcast, New Corporation, Viacom and CBS Corporation. This means that a very consolidated amount of corporate interests control most of the media consumed in America, from broadcast to radio to newspapers to magazines, and also control other forms of media such as television shows, movies, advertising and music. For example, Disney owns ABC, ESPN, Lifetime and the History channel and Time Warner owns both CNN and Time.
This obviously leads to problems concerning what news is covered, how outlets cover “entertainment” type news versus informative type news. A few corporations could also theoretically control the current event knowledge of billions of people throughout the world. While I like to think that suppression of information by these companies isn’t common, the fact that six companies together own hundreds of news outlets threatens the “free market” of news. Hundreds of news stations offer an illusion of choice, but if a handful of CEOs are in control of all of them, do consumers really have a choice?
I have less of a problem with millionaire ownership of news outlets, like Jeff Bezos’ ownership of the Washington Post and John Henry’s of the Boston Globe. I think these types of benefactors can really help keep organizations afloat. While they provide ethical considerations, including how newspapers cover news related to their owners and a possibility of increased attention to the “bottom line,” under an owner who has the best interest of the news organization at heart, I think it can probably thrive.