Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Newsflash: Media Needs Mending

By Victoria SulenskiPublished October 21, 2014

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Currently, media policy in the United States allows media platforms to serve commercial needs rather than societal needs. Unbiased, international, and diverse platforms need to be encouraged and emerge with the help and support of our government.
By Victoria Sulenski, 10/21/2014

            Every day, millions of Americans take in news from a variety of sources. As technology rapidly improves, it is crucial to question the quality of the information being presented. Currently, many forms of media fail to provide politically accurate information to citizens. Instead much of the focus is on sensationalist and dramatic stories featured to get television viewers to tune in and customers to purchase the paper. Far more important to the informed electorate is what is happening in the world, rather than which celebrity got engaged recently. As a student and citizen, I am infuriated with the current state many media companies have taken by allowing this to continue. A possible way to ameliorate the present situation is to allow more leeway of government intervention. Although their role in media policy should be cautionary, it is important to note how their actions could lead media into a new direction; one that acknowledges the voices of a variety of interest groups, individuals, and global issues. To improve this variety of sources and provide more educational informative stories, media policy must be reformed.  

            For many years, powerful corporations have dominated the news media. These giants include GE, Newscorp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner, and CBS. With ownership of 90% of media sources, 70% of cable, and creation of monopolies in eleven US markets, one begins to question how their ownership became so encompassing and expansive. The tremendous power and influence these companies hold completely undermines the powerful antiestablishment tool that the media can be in democracy, leading to manipulation and concentration of biased views.

            The beginning of this issue stems back to governmental decision making. Media industry policies were created and crafted by powerful media corporations and their lobbyists. As a result, the laws have been tailored to fit the interests of the groups they are designed to regulate. Rather than trying to combat this domination, government has allowed media companies to overstep their political boundaries and impose their self-promoting ideas. 

            Corporate domination has the power to diminish quality news reporting. Rather than being informed about key worldly and political issues, our nation is exposed to sensationalism and "infotainment." These dramatic stories featured in all media platforms, contain celebrity gossip with no real impact in people's lives. In fact, reporting national affairs has declined by 25% but entertainment and celebrity stories have doubled. Stories on major environmental issues rarely get approved for the newspapers and television. Even when domestic and international issues are featured in the news, reporting is often biased and filled with vague information that is not "explicit." Due to this wide array of misrepresentation, viewers become both misinformed and uninformed.

            The media views also fail to present the perspectives of a wide array of diverse groups of individuals. Radio station owners have decreased by 35% and minority ownership of broadcast media is at a dismal level of 8% for radio and 3% for television. This severely limits diversity in news reporting as well as allowing underrepresented groups to have an independent and impactful voice.

            The main reason why many of these problems have escalated is due to the protections guaranteed in the First Amendment. The First Amendment covers citizens' rights to freedom of speech and press. Although these were implemented to protect citizens' voices, they have been undermined in some ways through the media. When 99% of broadband connections are provided by a few cable or telecom companies, the "freedom" of the media presented through these mediums is undermined entirely. These broadband connections require payment, leading many individuals without access to Internet and basic television sources. No regulations are in place to curb the power of the media corporations and ensure equal access to information for all citizens.  

            This is where government intervention becomes a necessary, and possibly effective, way to ensure quality and accessibility. Implementing policies that promote the public interest can ensure "diverse and democratic media ownership." A broadband policy should be enacted to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet for Americans. Funding should be allocated to support quality journalism and laws should support minority ownership of stations on all platforms of media. It may be beneficial to limit media corporations' control through monitoring and regulation as well. All in effect would ensure more diverse views represented and would also allow for greater access to these ideas. 

            When a price is placed on information, the quality of our democracy suffers. Media can be a powerful tool in educating citizens about major issues. Currently, media policy in the United States allows media platforms to serve commercial needs rather than societal needs. Unbiased, international, and diverse platforms need to be encouraged and emerge with the help and support of our government. Without doing so, the powerful potential of media platforms is undermined entirely, leaving citizens uninformed and our country in disarray.