Mass Media: Political watch dog or corporate stooge?

Over the years the press has always stood behind the concept that the public deserves to know the truth about what goes on in the political process. Truth about the issues and about those who represent them. Journalists have taken oaths to uncover the truth no matter how deep they have to dig and who they have to discredit in order to find it. But how sure can the general public be about the objectivity of said journalists when their employers are corporate giants who have millions of dollars invested in the commercial and political arena?

Yochai Benkler (2006) discusses the success’ and failures of mass media in a liberal democracy in his book The Wealth of Networks: How social production transforms markets and freedom. Benkler contends that “Throughout the twentieth century, the mass media have played a fundamental constitutive role in the construction of the public sphere in liberal democracies” and is “seen as a critical watchdog over government processes, and as a major platform for translating the mobilization of social movements into salient, and ultimately actionable, political statements.” It seems, particularly after the advent of electronic media such as radio and television, that the media is incredibly influential and shapes the views of its audience. People believe what they see on TV and hear on the radio and therefore form their opinions based on that information.

But how reliable is the source? News Corp owns FOX, Disney owns ABC, GE owns NBC (actually Comcast now owns 51%) and every other major network is owned by a huge corporate entity. These companies have huge amounts of money staked to commercial advertisers and political lobbyists meaning it would be in their best interest sway viewers to buy their products and vote their party. Fox News has been accused of being biased toward the right-wing, and based on their programming and the way they present the news it’s hard to argue. The fact that Roger Ailes, President of Fox News Channel and chairman of the Fox Television Stations Group, served as a political consultant for several Republican Presidential candidates suggests the¬†possibility that a bias does indeed exist.

Of course, FOX isn’t alone. NBC has been accused of carrying the left’s agenda and similar accusations have been made of NPR and ABC. The question is can the liberal democratic media really be considered the “free press” if their news coverage is dictated by corporate giants pushing their own political agenda? Shouldn’t all news coverage, outside of stated opinion programs, be the same? Objective and factual? If information is slanted one way or the other how is the consumer supposed to make good decisions and form educated opinions?

Some of the responsibility lies with the consumer, but people tend to watch and listen to news and information that corresponds with their ideals and beliefs. It is irresponsible for large corporations to dictate how their news programs are slanted politically, but the economic advantages often outweigh any moral obligations in big business. And that’s what mass media has become; big business. As long as large corporations are in control of passing along news and information to the public, the question of credibility and motivation will always be a part of the mass media equation.

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