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  social sciences


Running Head: Sociology


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Some nations can influence and control their media greatly. In addition, powerful corporations also have enormous influence on mainstream media.

In some places major multinational corporations own media stations and outlets. Often, many media institutions survive on advertising fees, which can lead to the media outlet being influenced by various corporate interests. Other times, the ownership interests may affect what is and is not covered. Stories can end up being biased or omitted so as not to offend advertisers or owners. The ability for citizens to make informed decisions is crucial for a free and functioning democracy but now becomes threatened by such concentration in ownership.

The idea of corporate media itself may not be a bad thing, for it can foster healthy competition and provide a check against governments. However, the concern is when there is a concentration of ownership due to the risk of increased economic and political influence that can itself be unaccountable (Alleyne, 1996).

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Communication is at the heart of human interaction. Essential for the quality of communication is the quality of information. The need for more and improved information, together with the freedom to openly express and exchange opinions, increases as people are expected to actively take part in decision making processes.

Be it newspaper articles, radio or television programmes – the work of professional journalists always stands behind media imparted information. Media companies may be industrial entities governed by general economic laws, but their produce is unlike anything else industry is taking to market. Journalists are both heart and brain of the media. Journalists are vigilant watchdogs observing those who hold political or corporate power. Journalists are the sensors not only for social problems, but also for positive developments. Without their work there would be neither reliable and impartial information nor public debate on opinions. Democracy can do without fifty different types of buttons. It will survive even prolonged social and economic hardship. But without a free and independent press democracy will die. There simply is no substitute for solid professional journalism.

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Arguably, no other business is as complex as the media business, and within the media sector, daily newspaper publishing is the most complex business of all. Nobody would deny that newspapers in a free and open society have to be privately owned. Only then can they be independent from outside influences. The kind of state controlled journalism totalitarian regimes cherish is unacceptable in any model of democracy.

Such independence, however, comes at a price. Publishers of privately owned newspapers have to generate enough business to withstand the normal pressure of competition which is the lifeblood of any market economy.

Yet newspapers are like no other industrial produce. The paper on which they are printed is nothing but the “packaging”. As always, the packaging is less important than the content, which in the case of newspapers is not a normal industrial product replicable en masse but the unique result of the intellectual work of individual professional journalists (Herman, McChesney, 1996).

While public interest is focused on the political and economic aspects of media concentration, its impact on professional journalism goes widely unnoticed. Severe political pressure on representatives of the media has been reported from several countries included in this survey. It would be too easy to explain these incidents with growing economic difficulties alone. The consequences of political indifference to the situation of the media and direct intervention and abuse of power by political parties, other socially relevant groups and organizations as well as individuals, can not be underestimated (Christians, Ferré, Fackler, 1996).

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Totally unacceptable are attempts by the authorities to stifle all forms of investigative journalism, to threaten critical newspapers and television stations with closure and to hamper or to block altogether the work of foreign correspondents. Hungarian Governments, from both sides of the political spectrum, have tried to buy the “political correctness” of the national print media by either placing or withdrawing the rights to publish the results of the national lottery. Some Romanian newspapers have shown a particularly perverse reaction to such pressure. Instead of fulfilling their role as a watchdog over the institutions, they have begun to sell their silence on political or industrial scandals by not reporting in exchange for advertisement placements or other favours.

Temptations to gag the media are, alas, not limited to the transitional societies of the former communist bloc. Even in Western Europe, which has enjoyed half a century of peace, liberty and democratic rule, attacks on the freedom of the media in recent years have become more frequent. The fight for market shares and quotas opens the doors widely to superficial infotainment at the expense of serious professional journalism. “Emotion” and “conflict” have become the two most important criteria for information to be “newsworthy”. “This way the importance of events becomes distorted, differentiating reporting becomes more difficult; relevant themes disappear from the agenda altogether and society as a whole becomes de-politicized.”49 The picture of independent Western media as a bright shining beacon for democracy is clearly tarnished (McChesney, 1996).

Publishers, editors and journalists on the other hand, are becoming less concerned with being seen as being too close to individual politicians or political parties. Their role in society becomes totally confused when they operate as “private counsellors” to politicians or even as active political players.

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The same problematic applies when investments from outside the media market into media firms change the quality of relations between industry and journalism. Journalists retain their credibility only as long as they are seen as neutral and as critical observers. They should never be put in a position of, nor should they be allowed to act as, industrial product promoters in disguise.

Professional journalism is facing new and disturbing challenges not only from the outside. The profession, which the European Court on Human Rights considers of the highest importance for the functioning of democracy, is facing difficulties also from within. Again, it’s the daily newspaper sector which has been hit hardest.

The loss of advertisement revenue due to the appearance of the internet has resulted in a dramatic power shift within newspaper firms. Using the argument of having to restructure due to the financial crisis, management is setting new rules for journalism. Investigative journalism is being reduced to the bones. News agency dispatches are filling columns which, not very long ago, were used to publish articles written by professional staff members. In times of dire straits the journalistic quest for quality content has become almost optional.

Newspaper management is using the economic consequences of normal market contractions to rein in critical writers and commentators. Direct or indirect pressure is put on journalists not to report negatively or even critically on events, institutions or people who might be important to publishers or editors and their friends from politics and industry.

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Such pressure often leads to “politically correct” reporting by journalists – a euphemistic description of self-censorship. It may, however, lead to direct censorship. According to the German Sociologist Roland Seim censorship is nothing but “knowingly taking influence on public opinion by withholding information from the public or presenting it in a distorted way”. It appears, therefore, essential to protect daily newspapers in their role as watchdogs over the proper function of democracy and a vital instrument of social cohesion from undue economic dependencies and outside pressure.

The rise of a global commercial media system and of media concentration is more than an economic matter for Europeans; it also has clear implications for democratic and social values as well as for the role of journalists. Excessive commercialisation and, particularly, media concentration can impede the right to know because it leads to a small number of corporations controlling the major proportion of media outlets, thus restricting diversity and pluralism. The European Federation of Journalists representing about 200.000 journalists throughout Europe is, therefore, concerned not just about the quality of journalism and journalistic work, but also the impact on politics, pluralism and traditional cultural values.

The issues that need to be considered when talking about journalistic quality, ownership of media and concentration are:

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  • The importance of media to democratic pluralism, creative expression and cultural diversity within society;
  • The needs of owners to create viable and vigorous media businesses to suit a turbulent and expanding information market;
  • The need to maintain distance between media activity and the exercise of political power;
  • The needs of journalists and others to work in a professional environment free from undue political or commercial pressure.

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Much of the work of journalists and authors depends heavily upon good conditions of freedom of expression and opinion. The problem, and there is much evidence to support it these days, is that corporate influence in modern media is upsetting the traditional balance between business interests and editorial independence.

At the heart of journalism, without being too grand, is the notion of impartiality, tolerance and respect for the truth. But ideas of “mission”, “public interest” and ethical standards are increasingly compromised by commercial pressure on the news agenda in favour of business interests.

At the same time social conditions and employment rights are under extreme pressure as corporate hostility to unions and collective bargaining are having a negative impact on both quality of content and social conditions. However, it must be said that although flawed, the global media system can be at times a progressive force.

This happens, for example, where it enters national markets in Europe that have traditionally been tightly controlled by corrupt administrations or where there has been significant state censorship. Also we can all agree that the development of new technologies can offer unprecedented opportunities for ordinary people to participate in the democratic process.

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But these progressive aspects of the globalisation of media should not be exaggerated. We have seen how media corporations want to avoid rocking the boat, as long as they can do their business. Nor is it their intention to enhance public access to information when they believe it can be delivered by them – at an appropriate price. When commercial interests are set against democratic or professional values it is inevitable that the interests of the market take priority.

There is a discernible decline in standards of reporting and especially in the frequency, range and quality of investigative journalism. Newspapers and network television, in a panic over audiences, are universally addicted to tabloid values. Bizarre changes in the news agenda have been accompanied by a rise in intrusive television focused on mindless and trivial programming. We see the eclipse of serious political and social debate in favour of tasteless voyeurism and prurient entertainment.

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Advertising has always been vital to traditional media, but in the global economy it is becoming ever more important and is already imposing intolerable pressures on editorial departments. Journalists are increasingly expected to produce material to suit the interests of sponsors and advertisers. The traditional lines between advertising and editorial content are blurring if not altogether disappearing.
At the same time investment in journalism has fallen. As advertising-driven content becomes an increasingly important source of corporate profit, severe cuts have been imposed in editorial budgets that have reduced quality.

Where editorial managers now perceive that certain areas of journalism are not commercially interesting – investigative journalism or coverage of foreign affairs, for instance – they are discouraged as being too expensive.

The reduction of coverage of foreign affairs by prominent national media is evident in all countries and has led to a reliance on material from a small number of sources, mainly established news agencies and a tiny group of broadcast networks with global reach.

Cuts in editorial budgets have additionally depressed the capacity for research. Although the use of Internet has made life much easier for desk-bound journalists, the advantages and potential dangers are not fully explored. The pressure is, instead, to produce editorial material to satisfy sponsors and advertisers. This has seen an explosion in publicity journalism – for instance, “advertorials” – that is replacing editorial material normally produced according to higher standards of independent journalism. While this decline in newsroom quality has taken place an equally dramatic change can be seen in the social conditions of journalists (Charity, 1995).

The social dialogue process launched by the European Union around the European Works Council Directive has been least successful in the media sector, largely due to vigorous opposition from private media.

In addition, there is less investment in professional training. Almost no professional training is provided by media companies for freelance staff. There have been cuts in training arrangements for full-time staff, both in the entry level and in mid-career courses. Too often, the impact of these trends on content is the loss of journalistic edge (Glasgow University Media Group, 1993).

But isolated voices of protest, no matter how eloquent, are not enough to turn the tide in favour of a return to publicspirited journalism. What is urgently needed, instead, is an organised challenge to the disturbing national and international trend towards corporate control.

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In spite of long-established commitments from both the Council of Europe and the European Union to recognise the cultural and social value of media products, the distinctly European quality of media organisation – especially in the area of public broadcasting continues to be undermined at national and regional level. We are still waiting, as we have been for many years, for the European Union to respond to the challenge of media concentration.

Nevertheless, the loss of public interest values, particularly in the public sector of European broadcasting, could have a devastating effect, not only on the work of journalists and other cultural workers but also on the quality of democratic exchange in Europe.


Glasgow University Media Group, Getting the Message: News,    Truth and Power (Communication & Society), Publisher: Routledge (17 Jun 1993)

Edward Herman and Robert W. McChesney, The Global Media: The  New Missionaries of Corporate Capitalism, Cassell:  London, 1997. See also The Nation June 3, 1996

McChesney, "The Global Struggle for Democratic Communication," The Monthly Review 48(3):1-20, 1996

Arthur Charity, Doing Public Journalism, New York: Guilford   Press, 1995

Clifford Christians, John P. Ferré, and P. Mark Fackler, Good News: Social Ethics and the Press, New York: Oxford 1996

ark D. Alleyne, International Power and International    Communication, London: St. Martins, 1996

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