Media Consolidation -- a Historical Perspective

Media Reform Information Center

In 1983, 50 corporations controlled the vast majority of all news media in the U.S.

in 2000, the number had fallen to six. Since then, there have been more mergers and the scope has expanded to include new media like the Internet market. More than 1 in 4 Internet users in the U.S. now log in with AOL Time-Warner, the world's largest media corporation.

In 2004, Bagdikian's revised and expanded book, The New Media Monopoly, shows that only 5 huge corporations -- Time Warner, Disney, Murdoch's News Corporation, Bertelsmann of Germany, and Viacom (formerly CBS) -- now control most of the media industry in the U.S. General Electric's NBC is a close sixth.


Media Consolidation on NOW

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was created in 1934 with jurisdiction over radio, interstate telephone communication, and later television. But the FCC has always struggled with a fundamental lack of clarity about its proper functions. In its mission to serve the public interest, should the FCC crack down on indecency on the airwaves? Should it use its power to rescind the licenses of wayward stations?

Get background information on some of the FCC's more recent decisions below:

* The Fairness Doctrine
* Media Regulation Timeline
* Details of FCC Rule Changes
* Local and National Media Ownership


Source: PBS Now

Media Regulation Timeline


Local Radio Ownership Rule, National TV Ownership Rule enacted. A broadcaster cannot own television stations that reach more than 35% of the nation's homes.


Dual Television Network Rule enacted, prohibiting a major network from buying another major network.


Local TV Multiple Ownership Rule enacted, prohibiting a broadcaster from owning more than one television station in the same market, unless there are at least eight stations in the market.


1981    [Reagan Presidency]

Reagan Administration deregulation under the leadership of FCC Chairman Mark Fowler. Deregulatory moves, some made by Congress, others by the FCC included extending television licenses to five years from three in 1981. The number of television stations any single entity could own grew from seven in 1981 to 12 in 1985.

1985    [Reagan Presidency]

Guidelines for minimal amounts of non-entertainment programming are abolished. FCC guidelines on how much advertising can be carried per hour are eliminated.

1987    [Reagan Presidency]

"Fairness Doctrine" eliminated. At its founding the FCC viewed the stations to which it granted licenses as "public trustee" — and required that they made every reasonable attempt to cover contrasting points of views.


1996    [Clinton Presidency]

President Clinton signs the Telecommunications Act of 1996. It is generally regarded as the most important legislation regulating media ownership in over a decade. The radio industry experiences unprecedented consolidation after the 40-station ownership cap is lifted.

The result?

Top Telecommunications, Media and Technology Companies

Does Clinton regret the Media Merger Mania he unleashed?
It's not clear:

Bill Clinton’s Take On Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal


The Fallout From the Telecommunications Act of 1996

* Lifted the limit on how many radio stations one company could own. The cap had been set at 40 stations. It made possible the creation of radio giants like Clear Channel, with more than 1,200 stations, and led to a substantial drop in the number of minority station owners, homogenization of play lists, and less local news.

* Lifted from 12 the number of local TV stations any one corporation could own, and expanded the limit on audience reach. One company had been allowed to own stations that reached up to a quarter of U.S. TV households. The Act raised that national cap to 35 percent. These changes spurred huge media mergers and greatly increased media concentration. Together, just five companies – Viacom, the parent of CBS, Disney, owner of ABC, News Corp, NBC and AOL, owner of Time Warner, now control 75 percent of all prime-time viewing.

* The Act gave broadcasters, for free, valuable digital TV licenses that could have brought in up to $70 billion to the federal treasury if they had been auctioned off. Broadcasters, who claimed they deserved these free licenses because they serve the public, have largely ignored their public interest obligations, failing to provide substantive local news and public affairs reporting and coverage of congressional, local and state elections.

* The Act reduced broadcasters’ accountability to the public by extending the term of a broadcast license from five to eight years, and made it more difficult for citizens to challenge those license renewals.

The result?

Who owns the Media?

One Candidate has spoken out against this senseless consolidation of the Free Press -- that Candidate is John Edwards


John Edwards:

"It’s time for all Democrats, including those running for president, to stand up and speak out against this [News Corp./Dow Jones] merger and other forms of media consolidation."

So far, Edwards is the only candidate to address this issue, and he deserves enormous credit for exhibiting such courage. The media is a potentially devastating enemy - just ask Howard Dean. However, Hillary Clinton has the greatest moral obligation to take a stand given what her husband saddled us with.

And Edwards has paid the Price for telling the Truth to the American People!

The price tag: being "Virtually Ignored" by the Media, and even being dropped from Candidate Polls, based on the arbitrary decisions of corporate Media Executives, and little else:

Survey USA Drops Edwards Based on "Judgment"
by sarahlane - Jan 17, 2008

Unbelievable! CNN narrows the Field of Candidates!
by jamess - Jan 13, 2008

What is Edwards saying that they find so disturbing?

Edwards Comes Out Strongly Against Media Consolidation

Aug 2, 2007

Challenges Democratic presidential candidates to cut off contributions from News Corp Executives

Chapel Hill, North Carolina – Today, Senator John Edwards spoke out strongly against media consolidation which threatens the health of our democracy, by calling on Democrats to openly oppose and take the necessary steps to stop the merger between News Corp and the Dow Jones Company/The Wall Street Journal. Edwards called on Democrats to oppose the merger in light of the biased and unfair manner Fox News, and other media arms of News Corp, cover Democrats and the Democratic Party.

"News Corp's purchase of the Dow Jones Co. and The Wall Street Journal should be the last straw when it comes to media consolidation. The basis of a strong democracy begins and ends with a strong, unbiased and fair media — all qualities which are pretty hard to subscribe to Fox News and News Corp. The reality is that Americans deserve more news outlets — not fewer. It's time for all Democrats, including those running for president, to stand up and speak out against this merger and other forms of media consolidation.

Al Gore, another Progressive Statesman, has also spoken out just as urgently against this "wild west" atmosphere for evermore Media Consolidation:

Gore Lashes Out at Media Consolidation
by Jill Lawless

August 28, 2006

"Democracy is under attack," Gore told an audience at the Edinburgh International Television Festival. "Democracy as a system for self-governance is facing more serious challenges now than it has faced for a long time.

"Democracy is a conversation, and the most important role of the media is to facilitate that conversation of democracy. Now the conversation is more controlled, it is more centralized."

In the United States "the only thing that matters in American politics now is having enough money to put 30-second commercials on the air often enough to convince the voters to elect you or re-elect you," he said. "The person who has the most money to run the most ads usually wins."

Where do the other Candidates stand on the FCC, Media Consolidation, and the Fairness Doctrine?

It would be nice to know!

[The Fairness Doctrine, by the way, pre-Reagan era, used to require ALL qualified Candidates, get Equal Air time from the broadcasters, in exchange for their very lucrative broadcasting licenses.]

Edwards has the guts to take a Stand and speak out, like Al Gore did --
do they?

John Edwards pickets at NBC - WGA
John Edwards:

"One of the things we have a problem with in America is the conglomeration and consolidation of the Media.

We need to make sure that diverse voices are being heard, and we don't have that kind of consolidation because that's a big part of the problem."

If the Trends set in motion by Ronald Reagan, and continued by Bill Clinton, are allowed to proceed unchecked as they have for 2 decades, this is the likely Future we will face

Instead of the "Big Six" Media Conglomerates --
we'll end up with the "Titanic Two"

Fox and MSNBC! (and just wait til they merge)

If you think the Media stinks now --
just stay tuned ...

and now a word from those Sponsors,
those VERY Special Interests down at www.MediaLobbyists.Inc ...
underwritten and enabled by "Business as Usual" politicians, SPONSORS!

No votes yet


is awesome ...

and thanks for the history lesson on who was responsible for turning the Fourth Estate into a garage sale.

ePMedia ... get the scoop with us!
If it's true that our species is alone in the universe, then I'd have to say that the universe aimed rather low and settled for very little. ~ George Carlin us.

If we want media of diversity and integrity, we have to create them ourselves. Fortunately, today, we have the means for doing so.

Unless we sit by and let the government take those means away.

Support Net Neutrality. Stop the corporations!

Thanks, James. Important post.

Thanks for putting this out there. Makes you wonder if we can ever fix the mess.