Our Media Consolidation Problem Did Not Begin With Sinclair Broadcasting or Trump
A video went viral over the weekend that depicted dozens of TV anchors on news channels owned by Sinclair Broadcasting rehearsing the same script warning Americans of the dangers of “biased and false news.” Americans, rightfully so are outraged.
What’s missing from the conversation is the acknowledgment that our nation’s media consolidation problem is not something that begins and ends with Sinclair Broadcasting nor President Trump. The United States has a decades-long media consolidation problem.
Why is the spotlight on Sinclair Broadcasting then?
Sinclair Broadcasting owns 173 local news stations in 81 broadcast markets. Sinclair Broadcasting is in the works to buy 42 more local stations including for the first time stations in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. In order for Sinclair to purchase those additional stations it must get approval from the FCC.
As the Washington Post reported, the FCC currently limits single station owners from reaching 39 percent of the national television audience and prohibits ownership of more than two stations in most TV markets. Pai was appointed to lead the FCC by President Trump. Pai is also a nemesis of net neutrality supporters and is a fan of de-regulation, giving Sinclair a good chance at purchasing the 42 extra stations. Needless to say, Pai has not endeared himself to Democratic voters.
So while Sinclair Broadcasting looks to be gaining its market share thanks to President Trump and his buddies at the FCC, Sinclair also may have in fact have a conservative slant. The Washington Post analyzed the stations Sinclair Broadcasting owns and found their stations were clustered in predominantly conservative areas. The Post also reported that the broadcast areas of Sinclair stations voted for Trump over Hillary Clinton by a 19-point margin, on average. You can see why Democrats are starting to get pretty angry at Sinclair Broadcasting. The Post report included more findings that make Sinclair look like a conservative slanted news agency.
The real problem is not Sinclair Broadcasting but media consolidation throughout the U.S.
What nobody is mentioning along with the conversation about Sinclair Broadcasting is that all of our news is bought and owned by a small handful of corporations. Yes, what Sinclair Broadcasting is doing is atrocious. They sent out a script and required that all of our their stations read from the same script. Sinclair also appears to lack objectivity in its newscasting and instead seems to push a conservative agenda.
The real problem though is that 90 percent of our media is owned by just six corporations. In 1983 90 percent of our media was owned by 50 companies. There is a journalistic standard to uphold the truth and remain objective but in some respect it’s nearly impossible to be completely bias free. Humans are flawed and biased beings and while we may try our hardest to be fully objective, you never know what you don’t know.
The big problem isn’t bias as much as it is the consolidation. In a healthy functioning market you would have lots of news agencies all reporting the news each somewhat tinged with their own bias. When news is presented through the lens of only one organization or even six organizations you have a very small range of viewpoints and biases represented.
It’s why I created the organization Citizen Truth, because you rarely hear a strong anti-war voice in corporate media. There’s a lack of sufficient representation of many other viewpoints as well in corporate media. When you begin to consume news from non-mainstream sources you discover a whole other way of looking at the world and a whole new range of viewpoints. It can be almost frightening, and to some it is out right frightening, to begin to think in ways outside of the narrative that mainstream media presents.
Media consolidation is not a partisan issue
While it’s important to expose Sinclair Broadcasting we must expose all of the problems of media consolidation in our country. Thankfully the video exposing Sinclair Broadcasting is bringing to light just how dangerous media consolidation is. However, unfortunately, many are using the Sinclair Broadcasting videos just to point fingers at Trump or conservatives.
One of Trump’s FCC Chair’s first moves was changing a rule dating back to the 1970s that capped ownership of local media. With that, Sinclair Broadcasting reaches 72% of households. Meet America’s version of propaganda-TV. https://t.co/mne3JiSITS
— Amy Siskind (@Amy_Siskind) April 1, 2018
When we point fingers at only one media conglomerate we turn what is a national issue, that should be a concern to all Americans, into just another partisan issue. As soon as an issue that is of national concern to every American becomes just another partisan issue we lose. We lose because now half of the country will dismiss the issue and because once again our country is turned against itself and divided.
If we have learned anything from our government over the years it’s that we need to find issues that we can all rally around. Once an issue becomes a partisan issue it’s virtually impossible to achieve any meaningful change. While polls regarding gun laws vary depending on the wording of the polls, who was polled and by whom, I think it’s pretty safe to say that the majority of Americans want something rational done about gun laws in this country, even if it’s just as simple as making sure all of the current gun laws on the books are being properly enforced. Instead, we have turned gun safety, gun control, gun laws, gun protections, mass shootings or whatever term you want to use into another partisan issue and because of that Americans stand on opposing lines and no real change is achieved.
While it’s good for our society to call out Pai and Sinclair broadcasting for the irresponsible consolidation of media and the detriment that it does to us, labeling media consolidation a problem generated by conservatives is just as dangerous. It is a simple fact that media has undergone drastic consolidation over the last 3o years or so.
In fact, one of the pieces of legislation that many argue removed the last barriers to media monopolies was signed into office by a Democrat, Bill Clinton. Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 with the hope that the act would open up media markets to increased competition. Critics look back at the act and argue it brought in a new era of unchecked mergers and buy outs. For an in-depth look at the history of media consolidation in the United States read this article by Victor Pickard on Common Dreams. Pickard is the author of America’s Battle for Media Democracy: The Triumph of Corporate Libertarianism and the Future of Media Reform and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
So yes, shame on Sinclair Broadcasting, but also shame on all of the media conglomerates in our country. Don’t turn media consolidation into just another partisan issue that once again pits Americans against each other, even though they really want the same thing.