New Yorker writer A. J. Liebling put it rather succinctly: “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”
For many years, I dismissed the notion that corporate power in the media had corrupted the news process. But I have had to rethink my position, grudgingly agreeing with the lefties who see problems with corporate ownership of news.
The leftist freepress.org has a useful website to document the concentration of media ownership at https://www.freepress.net/ownership/chart
As AT&T and Time Warner, the owner of CNN, wait for approval of a merger, I couldn’t help but ask whether this concentration of business interests is really good for news consumers. I doubt that the founders anticipated this power.
Journalists like to wrap themselves in the First Amendment, which by the way was actually the Third Amendment when the Bill of Rights was first written. The other two amendments failed in the ratification process, so journalists really weren’t “first” in the grand thought process of the founders. Moreover, the freedoms of religion and speech precede freedom of the press in the First Amendment itself. But I digress.
Here is what Time Warner owns:
Company Overview: Time Warner is the world’s second-largest entertainment conglomerate with ownership interests in film, television and print.
TV: One television station and the Warner Brothers Television Group; Warner Brothers Television; Warner Horizon Television; CW Network (50 percent stake); TBS; TNT; Cartoon Network; truTV; Turner Classic Movies; Boomerang; CNN; HLN; CNN International; HBO; Cinemax; Space; Infinito; I-Sat; Fashion TV; HTV; Much Music; Pogo; Mondo TV; Tabi; CNN Español
Online Holdings: Warner Brothers Digital Distribution; TMZ.com; KidsWB.com
Print: Time, Inc.; 22 magazines including People, Sports Illustrated, Time, Life, InStyle, Real Simple, Southern Living, Entertainment Weekly, and Fortune
Entertainment: Warner Brothers; Warner Brothers Pictures; New Line Cinema; Castle Rock; WB Studio Enterprises, Inc.; Telepictures Productions, Inc.; Warner Brothers Animation, Inc.; Warner Home Video; Warner Premiere; Warner Specialty Films, Inc.; Warner Brothers International Cinemas
Other: Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment; DC Entertainment; DC Comics
Here is the rundown for AT&T:
Company Overview: AT&T is the second-largest U.S. wireless provider and the largest company providing local phone service in the U.S. AT&T offers its wireless services to over 97 percent of the U.S. population and serves wired customers in 22 states. AT&T offers cable television services in portions of its service territory under the brand name “U-Verse.”
Does anyone truly believe that this merger would be better for people who want news and information?
Walter Mossberg, the dean of U.S. tech writers, offered his assessment. “If this $85 billion merger goes through, it would, in my view, represent an unhealthy concentration of power between a distributor and a maker of content,” he wrote last year. “For media companies, for consumers, for advertisers, the best solution is to keep distribution and content separate, so consumers and creators meet on a level playing field. AT&T, which seems more excited right now about owning media than running a network, should be forced to choose whether it wants to be in one business or the other.”
Mossberg suggested spinning off CNN into a separate company. I would prefer to see it die on its own.
President Trump has hinted he opposes the merger, mainly because he doesn’t like CNN. I think he should oppose the merger because it would be bad for America.
But, as Liebling reminded us many years ago, “People everywhere confuse what they read in newspapers with news.” That holds true today for TV, the internet, and many other “news” outlets.