Ben Bagdikian -- "The New Media Monopoly"
important points from Ch. 1 and 2

A bit of media background

These summaries are from the seventh edition. Since the book's first edition, Bagdikian has listed a diminishing number of corporations and companies that dominate media.

Use the material at the links below to understand how media are currently structured -- and who the dominant players are.
Columbia Journalism Review
Click on Journalism Tools to find a list of media owners and what they own

Bagdikian's important assertions in Chapter 1

Five global firms "operating with many of the characteristics of a cartel" own most book publishers, newspapers, magazines, movie studios, radio stations and TV stations in the United States.

Time Warner
Walt Disney
New Corporation (Murdoch)
Bertelsmann (Germany)

Cartel-like relations mean joint ventures with competitors (News Corporation and Viacom; Vivendi and AOL ex.)

The "product" of media are entertainment, news and political programs and the big 5 indulge in mutual aid and share investments in the same product.

"The major media maintain their cartel-like relationship with only marginal differences among them, a relationship that leaves all of them alive and well -- but leaves the majority of Americans with artificially narrowed choices in their media."

"The possibilities for mutual promotion among all their various media is the basic reason the Big Five have become major owners of all kinds of media."(Ex. movie stars can appear in the same corporation's TV and cable programs, dominate the covers of the firm's magazines and be interviewed on its radio and TV talk shows).

The Big 5 have interlocking members on their boards of directors (ex. News Corp, Disney, Viacom and Time Warner have 45 interlocking directors).

"They manufacture a social and political world."

"They have become major players in altering the politics of the country. They have been able to promote new laws that increase their corporate domination and that permit them to abolish regulations that inhibit their control" (ex. 1996 Telecommunications Act).

"Conservative policies have traditionally been preferred by all large corporations, including the large media conglomerates. The country's five dominant media corporations are now among the five hundred largest corporations in the world. These five corporations dominate one of the two worlds in which every modern person is destined to live."

The political and social content produced by media for the U.S. has a vastly important consequence: The United States has the most politically constricted voter choices among the world's developed democracies.

"That raises fundamental questions about how and by whom the nature of democracy shall be determined."

The presidencies of Ronald Reagan and the Bushes [along with Clinton, who was a conservative Democrat] reversed the social and regulatory trends of the early part of the 20th Century. Now, the nation sees "a systematic reversal or cancellation of earlier natural resource conservation plans, reduced welfare and ... economic policies that hastened the flow of wealth to the most wealthy."

The new period was the "beginning of the end of government-as-protector-of-the-consumer and the start of government-as-the-protector-of-big-business."

"American radio has become a powerful organ of right-wing propaganda. (ex. Rush Limbaugh with opinions "are not only right-wing but frequently based on untruths" while ABC fired liberal talk show host Jim Hightower),

In politics, money now determines issues and candidates in the national discourse and in what voters have to choose from on election day.

"The largest source of political money has come from corporations eager to protect their expanded power and treasure."

Powerful people are a legitimate part of news because voters need to know what they are saying and doing, but they are not all of reality (and "do not always say the whole truth"). Contradictory studies and proposals from citizen groups get only sporadic and minimal coverage by major U.S. media -- and some of the country's most pressing problems (health care, homelessness, etc.) remain muted.

"The major news media fail to deal systematically with the variety of compelling social needs of the entire population. Those needs remain hidden crises, obscured by the flood of other kinds of news" (sensationalized coverage of individual tragedies such as sniper or kidnapping victims).

Bagdikian details corporate greed and excess (example, GE).

An imbalance between issues important to corporations and those important to society at large is obscured by the "neutralist tone of modern news" and by the decision of what to include or not include.

"It is the inevitable desire of most large corporations to have a political environment that is friendly to weakening minimal standards for public service and safety in order to produce maximum corporate profit levels and lower the corporate share of city, state and federal taxes. But these seldom provide comparable benefits for the common good, like health care, safe environments and properly funded public education."

There is hope, however, as Bagdikian asserts, in the new electronic media -- the Internet mainly -- developing as a social force.

Bagdikian's assertions from Chapter 2

"The Big Five"

Most of this chapter details the five large corporations noted in chapter one and some of their excesses.

Time Warner
Walt Disney
New Corporation (Murdoch)
Viacom (combined with CBS until beginning of 2006)
Bertelsmann (Germany)

Importantly, Bagdikian writes:
In discussing the thievery by high corporate officials in some corporations in the 1990s and early 2000s, Bagdikian notes, "It is ironic that some of the greatest American corporations seem periodically to confirm the unhappy insight of Karl Marx that, left to its own devices, capitalism held within it the seeds of its own destruction" but points out too the high human cost (loss of jobs and pensions, as well as loss to stockholders) because of a lack of governmental regulation and action.

"Unfortunately, the perfect market share that all so eagerly aim for is 100 percent, which is a monopoly. That is why the not-so-hidden meaning behind the slogan 'get government off our backs' eventually is 'let us either have a monopoly or cooperative arrangements with a small number of our companies in the same business.'"

So, Bagdikian articulates how corporations own media, influence government regarding it and shape its content to suit their interests.

Important assertions from earlier editions of Bagdikian's "New Media Monopoly"

The two common themes that dominate are 1) power and 2) greed.

In earlier editions, Bagdikian invokes George Orwell's 1984 and his idea of one owner of all media and the harm done -- and explains that a handful of corporations tied to the business and banking own most of America's mainstream media.

He argues 4 reasons why corporations have been able to increase media ownership -- without needing to conspire:

1) large corporations have shared values that are reflected in their news and popular culture.

2) They are the primary shapers of public opinion about events and their meaning.

3) They are a major influence on government.

4) When their corporate interests are at stake -- in taxes, regulation and antitrust -- they use the power in selection of news and in private lobbying power to influence politicians and the political process.

Bagdikian's 2 ultimate reasons why corporations try to dominate media:

1) Money -- dominant firms make a higher percentage of profit out of every dollar. Now it is not important to be an old-fashioned monopoly and it is not sufficient to have superior quality.
2) Power or influence -- dominant corporations have dominant influence over the public's news, information, ideas, popular culture and political attitudes -- and the have influence within government because they influence their audience's perception of public life, perceptions of politics and politicians (including how much media exposure they receive).

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Updated 2018