Archive for May, 2010

(Un)fair and (Un)balanced?

Posted on May 31, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

By: Holly Murphy

Interesting fact: the United States has the strongest free speech protection in the world. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states this position quite clearly. This amendment, along with the rest of the Bill of Rights, was passed in 1791, and we have been debating its efficacy ever since. Although it is most likely true that the free speech component of the First Amendment was originally directed toward the protection of political expression, it has been much more widely interpreted over the intervening years. Today, free speech protection has been extended not only to advertising and public relations, but also to media outlets and broadcast networks alike.

So, if clearly biased programs want to make trademarked claims that they are “Fair and Balanced,” they may have the right to do so, but should they? Lo and behold, these are the issues of concern today.

History/Context

Again, the notion of free speech is a coveted principle ingrained in the American media, and perhaps this gift of burden has spun out of control. This is not a newfound belief. Thus was born independent protection agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to regulate this right. In reference to the media, the FCC serves to promote competition, truthfulness and diversity, while facilitating the transition to digital modes of delivery. Similarly, the FTC supports the promotion of consumer protection and the eradication and prevention of harmfully “anti-competitive” business practices, such as a coercive monopoly. These agencies (namely the FTC) have constructively come into play with issues concerning false advertising. This is why the FTC must take action in reevaluating the truthfulness with Fox News’ trademarked slogan “Fair and Balanced.”

“Fair and Balanced” Trademark

By the network’s own account, Fox News has regularly and consistently used the catchphrase “Fair and Balanced” to endorse FNC’s television programming, despite frequent complaints that claim otherwise. In fact, Fox News has registered the phrase “Fair and Balanced” as their own official trademark for television news and merchandise. While this may be technically legal, it is also quite absurd as it is for 1) not accurate, and 2) unfair—not to mention that it is misleading too. In 2003, Fox News filed suit for trademark infringement against Minnesota Senator Al Franken for the title of his book: Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. The title was clearly a play on words for the FNC slogan, as the book reveals the consistent and frequent biases of Fox News.

The Reality

By any sane, objective measure, the Fox News Channel is far from living up to “fair and balanced” standards. In fact, research and studies of the network’s programming have demonstrated otherwise. During the Bush Administration, for example, former Fox News employees came out and said that the FNC network management instructed line producers and correspondents to structure their coverage of events in a manner that supported and promoted the positions of the Republican Party.

Furthermore, FNC makes zero effort to reach any semblance of balance in conducting diverse interviews. For instance, in 2005, the interview show “Special Report with Brit Hume” was monitored to detect the balance of party representation during a six month period. The study concluded that conservative guests outnumbered progressive guests five to one. A similar study was conducted two years prior and found that conservative guests outnumbered progressive ones 14 to one. The FNC’s news coverage of current events in our world and out country is grossly distorted, and must be monitored under a much more critical eye.

FTC Involvement

One of the provisions of the FTC is to find advertising to be deceptive if a claim made was likely to mislead a reasonable consumer, and if the claim was material. In the case of the Fox News Channel, neutral, nonpartisan network television viewers seeking objective and balanced information, are subject to believe that the FNC is relaying accurate information by reason of the claim that the show is “Fair and Balanced.” And as a neutral participant, why should they have reason to believe otherwise?

According section 5 of the FTC’s policy, a “material” claim is one that involves “information that is important to consumers and likely to affect their choice of a product or service.” What is more material to a viewer’s choice of news coverage than a claim that such coverage is “Fair and Balanced”? It is paramount that the FTC takes these considerations into account when evaluating the candor and efficacy of FNC’s slogan, “Fair and Balanced.”

Solution

To be fair, the Fox News Channel is bound by no law or regulation to deliver the news in a wholly objective manner. In fact, the First Amendment grants the FNC the luxury to present news, commentary, entertainment and any other content in any way it prefers. What Fox News is not free to do is falsely advertise its program in a manner that is blatantly untrue and misleading. In other words, FNC is free to do and say whatever it prefers, so long as it acts with transparency and accurate representation. According to the Supreme Court’s “commercial speech” rulings, the government (and the FTC) are inclined to prohibit any form of advertising that will sooner deceive the public than actually inform it. That is certainly the case of FNC’s use of the slogan “Fair and Balanced.” For these reasons, it is clear that the FTC must intervene in order to secure the public’s right to a “fair and balanced” look of news media outlets. 

False Advertising

Federal Trade Commission

Free Speech

Fair and Balanced

FTC and Fox News

Statistics

FNC Bias

Section 5 of FTC

Anti-Fox News

Transparency

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How did they come to power, anyway?

Posted on May 13, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

By: Holly Murphy

So the cat is out of the bag: The American media is so convoluted and askew that we are not sure where truth begins and where manipulation ends. One thing that has become commonplace, however, is the incessant dispute over who owns the media. Is it the loose-minded, idealistic liberals? Or is it the right-wing, traditionalist conservatives? Either way, it appears as though both parties have found refuge in opposition of one another. But the truth of the matter is, in fact, that neither party necessarily dominates over the other; rather, the U.S. is governed by a corporate media. As discussed before, the American media is suffering from serious conditions of media consolidation, and it is time to examine how this problem has developed into the pervasive standard that it is today.

Media Consolidation

In the last 50 years or so, there has been a serious consolidation of media ownership, and now nine select giant firms dominate the global media system—five of the largest include Time Warner ($24 billion), Disney ($22 billion), Bertelsmann ($15 billion), Viacom ($13 billion) and News Corp ($11 billion). In addition to needing global opportunity to compete, the staple etiquette forum for global media giants to compete are twofold: first and foremost, consistently increase size to dominate markets to prevent competition from buying the company out; secondly, spread interest in multiple media outlets and industries, such as music, film production, television broadcast, book publishing and such. In other words, integrate—integrate vertically, horizontally, diagonally, zig-zaggingly—whatever it takes to extend the company all over the global media spectrum. This is what has become second nature for the giant media conglomerates, and therein lies the problem.

Vertical Integration and Horizontal Integration

As discussed in the previous post, News Corp has become quite well-versed in the language of horizontal integration. On a broader scale, it is also a language fluently spoken by all of the media giants. Similar in concept is the all-pervasive conglomerate method that we have come to know as vertical integration. Vertical integration is the process in which several steps in the production and distribution processes of certain commodities are controlled by a single company or entity. A common misconception between horizontal and vertical integration is that they are opposite of one another. That is not necessarily true. In fact, they have a quite cozy, symbiotic relationship that, put together, has captured the essence of total media control.

For instance, let’s consider Fox News Channel (owned by News Corp). Bill O’Reilly has written several books including Pinhead and Patriots, Kids Are American Tooand The O’Reilly Factor. Counterpart and FNC coworker Sean Hannity has also written several books, which include Conservative Victory and Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Liberty over Liberalism. One thing that these books have in common, conservative style aside, is that they were all published by HarperCollins, a publishing company owned and regulated by News Corp. This is vertical integration. The content and analytical material used in these books is spread through other FNC corporately owned media outlets such as broadcast cable shows (Hannity and The O’Reilly Factor), internet websites (FoxNews.com and BillO’Reilly.com), shopping stores (The O’Reilly Store) and much, much more. This is horizontal integration. The two together, though not interchangeable, are a collapsing mechanism of total media control.   

Interlocking Directorates 

 The concept of interlocking directorates refers to the idea of a corporate board of directors serving on the boards of multiple media corporations and outlets. Though this practice may be technically lawful and widespread, it certainly addresses questions about the quality and independence of board decisions. To put this in perspective, it follows as such: News Corp has seventeen members on its board of directors, some of which include Rupert Murdoch, son James Murdoch, Natalie Bancroft, Arthur M. Siskind and several more. These members share ownership in many companies including Allen & Company, Gateway, Worldcom, PMP Communications, and many more. This means that these seventeen members are in cross-control of enormous companies—thus limiting ownership even more. With all of this limited control, media critic guru Robert McChesney also notes that the “gravest loss is in the self-serving censorship of political and social ideas, in news, magazine articles, books, broadcasting and movies.”


Solution?

The problem now is not just that the overall global media is consolidated to five major firms, but also that these firms are consolidated within themselves. A small board of directors is in control of overwhelmingly large companies that are simply too big to be managed by such a limited group. Taking on the issue of the global consolidation of media is a difficult and incredibly dense feat—the answer of course would be to promote more independent journalism. But there are several large steps that need to be taken before that even becomes a possibility. For one, major media conglomerates (Disney, Time Warner, News Corp, etc.) need to at least appoint more officials among their subdivisions in order to further a variation of opinion, which will hopefully reflect in the media outlets. Having such a limited amount of employees in high positions of power is simply too broad, and thus perpetuates a media oligopoly

Media Oligopoly

Mainstream Media

Global Media Giants

Conglomerates

Interlocking Directorates

Media Reform

Large Media Corporations

Horizontal Integration

Media Relationship to Power

Consolidation

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News Corp: Is it warped?

Posted on May 3, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

By: Holly Murphy

As U.S. journalists to be, we tend to pride ourselves on diversifying our daily media outlets. For example, this morning I read an article from The Wall Street Journal about the ongoing Gaza conflict between Israel and Palestine. Several weeks ago I saw a reference to this mess in the New York Post. Months ago I saw coverage of the issue featured on the Fox News Channel. While it may seem as if my media outlets are widely spread, it is not the case. In fact, News Corporation, the world’s second largest media conglomerate, owns each of these outlets.

The point? Media consolidation has become the premise of U.S. news and entertainment in current day society, and it is time for rigorous review. 

History/Context

News Corp was founded by Rupert Murdoch in 1979 as a holding company for News Limited—an Australian newspaper publisher bequeathed to Murdoch upon the death of his father in 1952. So began the global media conglomerate powerhouse that it is today. News Corp first entered the U.S. upon the acquisition of the San Antonio Express News in 1973. Shortly after, it purchased other low-grade publications such as the National Star and a supermarket tabloid. Perhaps the turning point of success was when Murdoch bought out half of the movie studio 20th Century Fox in 1981, which soon followed the launch of the Fox Broadcasting Company. By 1995, News Corp, along with several other conglomerates, had amassed an obscene portion of the media.

Thus was born the media oligopoly that persists today. 

Ownership/Holdings

News Corp’s global ownership is far extended into newspapers, books, magazines, radio, TV, cable, Internet, studios, music, radio and broadcast. Among the many, a few well-known outlets include HarperCollins, The Wall Street Journal, MySpace Records, 20th Century Fox Television, Fox News Channel and many, many others. News Corp operates in nine different media on six continents. Notorious media critic Robert McChesney gathered that in 1995, News Corp earned 70 percent of its income in the U.S., and the rate has continued to increase. As of 2009, News Corp’s overall revenue amounted to US$30.423 billion. Murdoch, who owns 30 percent of the company, has distributed this revenue relatively evenly amongst the “filmed entertainment (26 percent), newspapers (24 percent), television (21 percent), magazines (14 percent) and book publishing (12 percent).” 

Horizontal Integration

As critics of the media, it is our job to question the overwhelming ownership and control of News Corp. It especially calls great attention to the issue of horizontal integration, which embodies the consolidation of holdings across multiple industries. The current trend within the entertainment industry has swayed toward the increased concentration of media ownership into the hands of conglomerates such as News Corp. In theory, the idea of acquiring many media outlets is actually quite productive, given that it requires minor changes of format and information to use in multiple forms of media.

However, in the case of massive conglomerates like News Corp, the strategy has spun out of control because of wealthy individuals like Rupert Murdoch, who consistently continue to purchase more and more assets, resulting in the consolidation of power over media. This relationship between ownership and control dictates ideas, money, price, content, messages and information—thus limiting independent and diverse journalism

Synergism

With News Corp’s horizontal integration underway, it has become clear that the content used in, for example, an online newspaper is the same content that will be used in broadcasting radio, and hard copy newspaper, and so forth. Now, what have emerged are new, innovative strategies of development and allocation of content to enhance the synergy between the differing subdivisions of News Corp. In fact, Murdoch purchases as many mediums as possible to move similar content fluidly across diverse media outlets.

This, again, has perpetuated media consolidation and limited news coverage. 

Solution?

In the wake of this media mayhem, News Corp continues to contribute to the consolidation of media by monopolizing media outlets. One possible solution to this skewed system is perhaps a more democratic media (or journalism), where politically neutral, nonpartisan, professional or objective journalists must begin to take hold of communication, and embrace their independence. Additionally, smaller organizations should maintain their independence as well. Too often do they allow their organization to be bought out by larger conglomerates (such as in the case of MySpace).

The political economy of the media should be committed to enhancing democracy. But that is not the case today. Instead, media remains in absolute disrepair and corruption. It is controlled and regulated by big money, and unconditionally supported by Democrats and Republicans who seek state and capital welfare. The pursuit of democracy and “the people” is nowhere in sight, and this must change. 

News Corporation

Media Giants

Television–Faces of Horizontal Integration

Political Economy

News Corp with MySpace

Media Consolidation

Rupert Murdoch

Robert McChesney on death of journalism

Fox News Channel

Free Press

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    This blog explores the political and economic factors involved with The O'Reilly Factor for J412

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