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Media Ownership Concentration

Media Concentration in UK and Europe
Media Concentration in USA

Australian media is even more highly concentrated than in most other parts of the world. In the newspaper industry, for example, two media powerhouses Rupert Murdoch's News Ltd. and the Fairfax Group own 10 of the 12 capital city and national daily newspapers, controlling 88% of that circulation in Australia.

Media Concentration in UK and Europe

Murdoch is just one instance of the highly concentrated media in the UK where ownership is in the hands of a few "proprietors with explicit conservative views." About 80% of the press in Britain is controlled by only four corporations and the situation is similar for broadcast media. Media owner Robert Maxwell, until he died, was also an interventionist owner who, according to Brian McNair, "boasted that his ownership of national newspapers gave him the power 'to raise issues effectively. In simple terms, it's a megaphone.'" McNair, author of News and Journalism in the UK, argues that in Britain "the economic interests and political preferences of the proprietor continue to be the most important determinant of a news outlet's editorial line." (McNair 1994, pp. 40-2)

The pattern of media concentration in Australia and Britain is repeated in Europe, where Murdoch's News International is only the 15th largest media conglomerate. (Osler 1996, p. 11) Robert Hersant, imprisoned for collaborating with the Nazis, owns newspapers whose combined circulations include one third of France's readers of national papers and two fifths of Poland's readers. In Italy, Silvio Berlusconi owns three television channels and three pay TV channels as well as newspaper and magazines (Bogart 1996).

Berlusconi used his media empire to win political leadership in Italy but was forced out of government in controversial circumstances. The trend in media ownership is not only towards concentration within countries but also towards the creation of 'global media empires' that include newspapers, television stations, magazines, movie studios and publishing houses (Gamson, et al. 1992, p. 378).

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Media Concentration in the USA

The majority of US media outlets including newspapers, magazines, radio, television, books and movies are controlled by less than twenty huge corporations (compared with forty six in 1983) (Cohen and Solomon 1995, p. 2). "Ninety-eight percent of U.S. cities have daily papers without competition. Ten newspaper chains control almost half the daily newspaper circulation. And even the remaining independently owned papers are dependent on the wire services and generally follow the nation's newspapers of record." (Ryan 1991, p. 119)

Mergers in the 1990s included those of the CBS network with Westinghouse, of Capital Cities/ABC with Disney, and of Ted Turner's media interests including CNN with Time-Warner. The entry of Westinghouse into the television world means that two of the major commercial networks are directly affiliated with the nuclear industry as General Electric owns television network NBC (Gunther 1995, p. 41).

Even cable television, which was supposed to be a means of providing diversity to television content has ended up becoming an interconnected network of channels, "most of them owned by an interlocking set of a half-dozen or so giant corporations" including Disney, Time Warner, and General Electric. Those cable stations not connected to the big cable owners, like the small independent TV and radio stations, need to be well funded and often have corporate or wealthy conservative sponsors. (Littwin 1995, p. 14)

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Bogart, Leo, 1996, 'Media and democracy: hand in hand?', Current, Vol. 8380, No. February.

Brewster, Deborah, 1996, 'News calls for media ownership deregulation', The Australian, 13 November.

Cohen, Jeff and Norman Solomon, 1995, Through the Media Looking Glass: Decoding Bias and Blather in the News (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press).

Gamson, William A., David Croteau, William Hoynes and Theodore Sasson, 1992, 'Media Images and the Social Construction of Reality', Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 18.

Gunther, Marc, 1995, All in the Family, American Journalism Review, October.

Littwin, Angela, 1995, 'The Interconnected World of the Cable Oligopoly', Extra! Nov/Dec.

McChesney, Robert W. 1999, The New Global Media It's a Small World of Big Conglomerates, The Nation, November 29.

McChesney, Robert W. 1997, The Global Media Giants The nine firms that dominate the world, Extra!, November/December.

McNair, Brian, 1994, News and Journalism in the UK (London and New York: Routledge).

Osler, Dave, 1996, 'Broadcasting Bill Starts Media Merger Merry-Go-Round', Journalist, April/May.

Ryan, Charlotte, 1991, Prime Time Activism: Media Strategies for Grassroots Organizing (Boston, MA: South End Press).

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© 2003 Sharon Beder