Knocking on the Door
While the President regularly rails against “fake news” the public should be far more concerned about the concentration of media ownership in the hands of people with a distinct political agenda. While MSNBC clearly has a liberal/progressive slant, Fox News has become a full-fledged subsidiary of the Republican Party, much the way Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones are. Looming on the horizon now, however, is the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which is on the verge of acquiring the Tribune Media Company, significantly expanding its national reach. As Todd Shields of Bloomberg News wrote on May 9th:
Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.’s deal for Tribune Media Co. would give a broadcaster known for its conservative leanings fresh reach into leading media markets including New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
Sinclair, which last month named a former aide to President Trump as its chief political analyst and drew criticism for programming that benefited Trump and President George W. Bush during their campaigns, stands to gain stations in 42 cities and expand to a total of 108 communities. The combined company would serve almost three-fourths of US households, raising questions about the concentration of media voices. (The “chief political analyst” is the intellectually challenged Boris Epshsteyn, btw).
Our concern here should be the movement toward “state media,” something the Trump administration would love to have supplant the “fake news” of the NY Times and The Washington Post.
“State media,” if you are not familiar (or clear) with the term is:
(State media or state-owned media is) media for mass communication that is controlled financially and editorially by the state. These news outlets may be the sole media outlet or may exist in competition with corporate and non-corporate media. (Wikipedia)
While we are not in danger of outlets like the Times and the Post going by the boards, we need to take note that “About 57 percent of US adults often get news from television, compared with 38 percent who often find news online, according to a survey conducted last year by the Pew Research Center.” (Shields, Bloomberg) That means Sinclair, along with Fox, will have enormous reach in supporting the agenda of the Trump Administration (and not necessarily the Republican Party!).
What makes Sinclair particularly dangerous is their promotion of “must runs.” As described by journalism professor Jeffrey Layne Blevins in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (July 4, 2017):
Sinclair, which is headquartered in Maryland, was the architect of the concept of “central casting” by providing pre-packaged news segments (including weather) that were surreptitiously inserted into the local news broadcasts of its owned-and-operated stations across the U.S. All of those local news broadcasts also carried a segment titled “The Point” by one of Sinclair’s corporate executives, Mark Hyman, that provided a politically conservative perspective on public affairs. Although, Sinclair has scaled back its central casting, the broadcast group is still known to be heavy-handed in its selection of news content, telling its stations that certain segments (often with a distinct conservative slant) are “must runs,” which takes editorial decision-making out of the hands of local station managers.
So, a broadcast group which ran segments of the John Kerry Swift Boat “farce news” during the 2004 election and supported Trump throughout 2016 campaign in much the way Fox News did, becomes a dangerous player as the 2018 and 2020 election cycles loom ahead.
As with “state media,” we face the possibility of having those in power, in the government, greatly influencing, if not dictating, a huge percentage of news that hits the airwaves. As we already see with Fox News, the “news” begins to border on propaganda. As described in Wikipedia:
Within countries that have high levels of government interference in the media, it may use the state press for propaganda purposes:
· to promote the regime in a favorable light,
· vilify opposition to the government by launching smear campaigns
· give skewed coverage to opposition views, or
· act as a mouthpiece to advocate a regime’s ideology.
As we have already seen, the “news” outlets that support the Trump Administration already traffic in these roles --- promoting the administration favorably, vilifying the opposition (consider the attacks on Clinton & even now, the Democratic leadership), skewing how the opposition is perceived and essentially serving as a “mouthpiece” for the administration. Combine this with Trump’s (almost) daily Twitter screeds and the need for vigilance, combined with a demand for objective and truthful news reporting, is a requirement for responsible citizens.
With the demise of “the Fairness Doctrine” at the end of the Reagan Administration and the rise of “social media,” news reporting has become a complicated and conflicted area that should generate public concern. If you don’t remember or are not familiar with the “Fairness Doctrine:”
The Fairness Doctrine had two basic elements: It required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters. Stations were given wide latitude as to how to provide contrasting views: It could be done through news segments, public affairs shows, or editorials. The doctrine did not require equal time for opposing views but required that contrasting viewpoints be presented. The demise of this FCC rule has been considered by some to be a contributing factor for the rising level of party polarization in the United States. (Wikipedia)
We are, clearly, past the age of providing “contrasting viewpoints” and have entered the age of information “free-for-all,” making it all the more important for responsible citizens to seek out and promote truthful and honest news.