“. . . for news organizations to be indebted to the financial success of publicly traded corporations jeopardizes the public’s right to know and threatens our democracy.”
[May 17, 2011] Every single mainstream and cable news organization in the U.S. is traded on the New York Stock Exchange as part of the business structure of a U.S. Corporation. Your favorite news channel or network could be owned by your favorite appliance manufacturer. Hot damn…how terrific is that? Not terrific at all, because for news organizations to be indebted to the financial success of publicly traded corporations jeopardizes the public’s right to know and threatens our democracy.
Comcast owns 51% and General Electric (GE), 49% of NBC, which includes CNBC and MSNBC. Therefore, the company that provides us with cable, internet, and telephone services in our homes and the company that manufactures our appliances and light bulbs also have control of our news.
The whole idea of corporations owning news organizations violates the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics that “Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know.” That means they should act independently and avoid, at all cost, any conflicts of interest, perceived or real. That was easier for them to uphold before the conflicts of interest started signing the paychecks of news producers.
Walt Disney owns ABC News. Now come on…do you think an ABC News producer would ever approve content that could potentially damage the reputation of the company that brought us Disneyland and Disney World and family-friendly programming? For god’s sake, they brought us Mickey Mouse. No way would ABC harm their bottom-line. Time Warner owns CNN and AOL, and AOL acquired the Huffington Post. News Corp owns Fox News, Fox Business, New York Post, and Wall Street Journal. CBS owns CBS News.
Before Time Warner acquired Turner Broadcasting System in 1996, which owned CNN, this media observer expected journalists to “remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.” That’s no longer the case. Having a stake in the financial outcome of a corporation has greatly damaged the credibility of the news media.
No one believes a news organization would not compromise their integrity and risk damage to their credibility to prevent worldwide negative implications of a news story attributed to their parent company. Besides, the parent company is not going to sit idly by and let a subsidiary cause their financial ruin.
What do you think would happen if a news organization got hold of information that depicts their parent company in an unfavorable manner…would journalists hired by that organization act ethically and put the public’s right to know first and foremost and “seek truth and report it” or would they withhold it from the public?
News that GE paid no federal taxes in 2010, which proved unfavorable to their corporate image, received no coverage on NBC, CNBC, or MSNBC until six days after the New York Times reported it. It was as if they thought viewers would not notice that every other network was reporting the story but them. It was all over the Internet. It was apparent General Electric (GE) had silenced them.
Fox News producers and broadcasters vigorously defended News Corp against criticism over its $1 million donation to the Republican Governors Association in order to influence the 2010 midterm election. Fox News, like MSNBC, violated the public’s right to know. Unfortunately, Americans have come to expect bias in News Corp because Rupert Murdoch support of Conservatism is very well known. Fox News was built on it.
Fox News cast GE in a negative light for not paying any corporate taxes, and MSNBC broadcasters cast dispersions on News Corp for donating to only Republicans. It appears that it is acceptable practice to bring down your competitor’s parent company, but don’t you dare report anything that could adversely harm your own parent company. The public’s right to know does not take precedence over protecting their corporate image.
SPJ’s ethical standard of being “courageous about holding those with power accountable” only applies to celebrities and politicians. Cable news executives leave any harsh criticism of Wall Street or corporate CEOs to their opinion shows as long as they’re not criticizing a CEO of their own parent company. Would ABC vigorously investigate Walt Disney if they became ensnarled in a scandal that could damage the company’s reputation or drive down the price of its stock? Would CNN hold Time Warner accountable for some corporate misdeed? Is Bill Maher a Christian? Hell no!
If a powerful and sophisticated weapon defense system protects us from foreign threats, what protects us from U.S. corporations that control what we read, what we see on television, or what news we hear?
That's my yada yada and I'm sticking to it.
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