Debating media concentration and control

A response to Taking Sides – Clashing Views in Mass Media and Society – Issue 14

In the first article presented, The Media Monopoly and Other Myths, Noam and Freeman argue that concentration of ownership in the mass media is, when looked at statistically, actually decreasing and not a large problem.  The real concerns they see include local media ownership concentration and possibly Microsoft.  In The Realities of Media Concentration and Control, Bagdikian disagrees with their statistical methods, saying they have disregarded the context of the numbers-does it matter if GE or Rupert Murdoch have smaller pieces of the pie if they are now better able to get what they want?

Noam and Freeman cite a number of statistics in their argument.  For example, the total share of the top 10 U.S. companies in the information industry was 59 percent in 1987 but only 39 percent in 1997.  They also examined the top four firms in a number of individual industries and found the telecom, computer hardware and software, TV networks, and cable industries to be losing concentration.  Also, the information industry and mass media are below the concentration danger zone according to Justice Department measures.

Bagdikian, however, questions both their methods and their approach.  For one thing, he doesn’t believe computer hardware should be included in the study any more than print press manufacturers, because the dilemma lies in controlling content, not production methods.  He disagrees with the statistical approach because it does not include the real conditions companies operate with; GE owns NBC among other media outlets, and may choose to use either it’s manufacturing-based economic power to get what it wants or its mass media power or both.  Bagdikian also disagrees that new technologies like the Internet will necessarily mean more competition and feels their view of market forces are naïve.

I tend to agree more with Bagdikian than Noam and Freeman.  I do think that large media groups and media-and-industrial conglomerates have a lot more power to control what gets out to the public in what form than Noam and Freeman think possible.  Bagdikian is right about most companies not selling important properties to competitors and using their clout in one industry to get what they want in another or get laws made or bent in their favor.  Bagdikian also was correct about the Internet not solving the problem.  Although there is still a large amount of competition on the edges, the large players in the net (like Microsoft and AOL) have already emerged and dominate.

On the other hand, I can’t totally dismiss the use of statistical methods as Bagdikian does.  Noam and Freeman’s statistics were not precise enough to prove their position, but if a more detailed and narrowed analysis were made they could derive important points which could then be put into context.