Corruption in Mass Media – What Can We Believe?

What has happened to journalism?

In “The Political Economy of Media,” Robert McChesney makes the argument that corporate ownership of mainstream media is a direct cause of the lack of debate over that very issue. In a sense, by owning the media, corporate entities can easily quell any public outcry for debate on the deregulation of media ownership, thus keeping this major concern from reaching the public forum.

“…the corporate media are in an ideal position to control the public perception, or lack thereof, of any possible debate regarding the control and structure of the media… First, they simply ignore the issue or provide it minimal coverage…Second, the corporate media distort the issues to suit their own purposes.”

–Robert McChesney, “The Political Economy of Media”

This allegation begs the question: what other aspects of mainstream media have been compromised by corporate interests?

The corruption in mainstream media is as evident today as it has ever been. A discerning trend that has engulfed the broadcast news industry is allowing known lobbyists to pose as objective experts and commentators when discussing political and economical issues on-air.

“Since 2007 at least seventy-five registered lobbyists, public relations representatives and corporate officials–people paid by companies and trade groups to manage their public image and promote their financial and political interests–have appeared on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, CNBC and Fox Business Network with no disclosure of the corporate interests that had paid them.”

– Sebastian Jones, (article)

Lobbyists. Their very nature is to push their own corporate agenda, and somehow the most watched news organizations in our nation’s media system are turning to them for comment on the major issues of the day. No one lets the viewers know they are hearing from lobbyists. No one bothers to inform the viewers of their commentators’ obvious corporate loyalties.

The viewers are duped. Blatantly duped.

If we agree with McChesney’s earlier claim, that public debate on media ownership is suppressed by the self-preserving acts of media owners, what happens when you add to this spoon-fed debates that often themselves just a front for corporate agenda-setting? Is the capitalist journalism model inherently flawed, or has the deregulation of media ownership caused this corruption in broadcast news?

I suppose it could be argued that both points are true, however, I tend to side with deregulation being more of a proponent to our currently flawed media system. With the right amount of government oversight, the mass media industry could retain less of a hold over the news received by the public.  Unfortunately, the issue that would arise from such a scenario is the agenda-setting then being controlled by the government – a situation that would completely discredit journalism as the Fourth Estate.

So what to do? Can journalism ever truly be the advocate of the people?

Considering these questions, I begin to understand why McChesney is so cyclical in his writing. The more one studies the politics of media, the more it appears to be a paradox in which the answer may never truly be clear. Who owns journalism?  In a perfect world, journalism would be owned by the people, and used as a tool to engender political and economical change.  For now, as it seems with anything else in our capitalist society, journalism is owned by the highest bidder.


~ by dparsonsmedia on February 19, 2010.

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