Comcast, GE merger detrimental to media consumers

By Lauren Kelly

A multi-billion dollar deal between Comcast and General Electric announced on Dec. 3 will result in the cable television provider gaining control of NBC Universal. Comcast will own 51 percent of NBC Universal and GE will own 49 percent in the joint venture.

This recent deal, worth $30 billion according to the New York Times, is harmful to the public’s interests because it concentrates more power in the hands of a few corporations. Large media firms are out to make profits, not to serve the public.

Today, only a few corporations control the entire media industry, much to the detriment of consumers. This latest merger between GE and Comcast is one in a long line of consolidations that puts media ownership in fewer hands.

When a handful of companies own the majority of media outlets, the consequences are very direct. Concentration of media limits the diversity of views, cuts out minority-owned businesses and ignores local issues.

Besides selling the majority of NBC to Comcast, GE has promised to purchase at least $345 million in advertising from NBC Universal over the next five years, according to a Dec. 4 Associated Press article. GE will also buy $50 million worth of ads during the 2012 Olympic Games.

Ben Bagdikian, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of The New Media Monopoly, said in his book that major corporations “have become major players in altering the politics of this country. A small group of interlocked corporations now have effective control over all the media on which the American public says it depends.”

In the early 1980s, more than 50 companies owned the majority of media outlets. Today there are six: Time Warner, Disney, News Corporation, Viacom, Bertelsmann and GE. The list of subsidiaries these companies own is ridiculously long. Their empires include ownership of movie studios, television stations, radio stations, amusement parks, book publishers and Internet sites.

These six media organizations function more like cartels than free market enterprises. Instead of real competition, they have joint boards of directors that help each other when it’s mutually advantageous. Some executives have worked for more than one of the major companies during their career.

It’s very dangerous for a democratic nation to put its trust in six profit-driven companies for all the information it receives.

The Federal Communications Commission is supposed to be the “watchdog” of media corporations, but instead of regulating the media, the FCC is doing little to enforce restrictions. Many FCC commissioners cave to the demands of companies, receiving free flights, meals and hotels from media corporations and getting jobs at entertainment companies after their term ends, according to Bagdikian.

In the past, the news media were the watchdogs of government. By reporting on big issues and exposing corruption, journalists have influenced the tide of politics, the economy and social issues. But because the news media organizations themselves are the ones that need to be kept in check, the flow of information moves according to profit margins. Those that control the information control the debate, and there is no question that large media conglomerates are amassing a huge amount of power that limits the diversity of viewpoints shown to the general public.

What is truly needed is to break up the media cartels and reform the FCC’s regulatory statues so corporations will not be allowed to acquire so many different outlets, which monopolizes the media landscape. Also, the appointees to the commission should be held more accountable regarding what they allow media firms to do.

Breaking up these large corporations and restoring a diversity of views in the media is essential for a healthy society to function. Now, more than ever before, we need media to serve the public. A larger diversity of messages regarding the current state of the economy, health care reform, the multiple wars our country is waging, debates over social issues and environmental problems would better the lives of all Americans.