Statement of Ralph Nader on Media Concentration and Bias

The mass media in the United States is extremely concentrated, and the messages that they send are broadly uniform. Six global corporations control more than half of all mass media in our country: newspapers, magazines, books, radio and television.


The mass media in the United States is extremely concentrated, and the messages that they send are broadly uniform. Six global corporations control more than half of all mass media in our country: newspapers, magazines, books, radio and television.

These Big Six are AOL Time Warner (the largest media firm in the world), Disney (which absorbed ABC/Cap Cities), Viacom (which includes the former Westinghouse and CBS), Bertelsmann (the German firm that controls 10 percent of all adult trade books in the world), General Electric
(which owns NBC and all of its subsidiary media outlets), and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp (the Australian-based firm that controls a large American media empire that includes the Fox radio and television stations and network).

The Big Six are large companies (all in the international Fortune 500) and they have vested interests that are largely shared with each other, and with other large corporate interests, including: trade agreements that favor corporate interests over workers, consumers and the environment; undercutting the civil justice system that protects the rights of injured persons; maintaining our current cash-driven electoral system; and many others.

Our democracy is being swamped by the confluence of money, politics and concentrated media. Political advertising has become an important source of revenue, especially for TV stations. Broadcasters are eager to keep this money coming in, and they have consistently opposed campaign finance reform.

The media also has the ability to define who is a “serious” candidate in most races. They use this power to their advantage: buying advertising has become the single most important criterion for being defined as a serious candidate. A good example of this is Ross Perot in 1992. As soon as he announced his plans for massive campaign spending he was immediately treated as a serious candidate, and given free media exposure that most third-party candidates can only dream about, despite the fact that at the time he had no political party and relatively few Americans knew anything about him.

The media is very effective at leveraging its financial power, and its control over news, into political influence. The government has allowed concentration in media that would have been unlawful a decade ago-concentration that seriously erodes our national commitment to a
“free press.” A striking example of the mass media’s political influence was the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which turned over the broadcast rights to the digital spectrum-worth $70 billion-to television broadcasters for free, with little debate and virtually no television
coverage.

A study of network nightly news coverage from Labor Day through mid-October found that the networks had 211 stories featuring Gore; 214 stories featuring Bush; and only 4 stories featuring my candidacy. That is less than 1% of the stories, despite the fact that my national poll numbers have been between 4 and 8%, and a majority of Americans
expressed their desire to have me on the debates, indicating that they would be interested in learning more about my candidacy.

Since that time, mass media interest in my candidacy has increased substantially, but only because the Democratic party has chosen to directly call me a spoiler. Almost all of the questions, and almost all of the coverage, is on the “horse-race” aspect of the elections- who is winning where; how will this or that tactic help this or that candidate. There is very little about agenda. Last Wednesday I gave a press conference that drew fifteen television cameras, many radio outlets and dozens of print reporters. I talked about the environment -Al Gore had challenged me to compare my environmental record with his, and I wanted to take up his challenge- and I talked about economic issues, the tens of millions of low- and moderate-income Americans who have been largely left behind by this long boom, and are extremely vulnerable to the next downturn. These are substantive, newsworthy issues. But the questions I was asked were mostly about whether I was a “spoiler”, and the horse race. Almost nobody showed interest in the substance of the issues I raised.

This interest in tactics, polls, ad buys and other fluff rather than substantive issues is by no means confined to my campaign. According to the Center for Media and Public Affairs, “candidates political views and records [were] featured” in only 41% of network evening news stories
about the Presidential campaign. Campaigns in the United States are decreasingly about issues, at least as seen through the lens of the mass media.

As the world hurtles willy-nilly toward corporate globalization, other countries should be wary of allowing over-concentration of media. Media concentration is a cornerstone of the commercialization of culture and
the erosion of civic democracy.

We in the United States must try to reclaim our democracy from the accelerating grip of big-money politics and concentrated corporate media. The keys to doing this will be real campaign finance reform, which means public financing of public elections; vigorous antitrust
regulation and enforcement; ending broadcasters’ free use of the public airwaves; and the reversion of time on our publicly owned airwaves to establish audience-controlled radio and TV networks to ensure the diversity of voices necessary for a really free press and a true civic
democracy.

Author: Ralph Nader

News Service: TheExperiment Network

URL: http://www.votenader.org/issues/media_statement.html