mainstream media
We have full freedom of the press in the U.S, so why do we continue to see only a limited number of topics covered in the mainstream media?
The First Amendment to The Constitution of the United States of America was originally written in September of 1789 and it was entered into effect in December of 1791.  Since December of 1791, the media in the United States Of America has been permitted to operate with a full degree of freedom that still does not exist in many countries throughout the world.  Unless a story includes any information which may directly compromise national security or defense issues or includes information which could be considered to be defamation or slander, journalists in the U.S. are permitted to print, broadcast or post absolutely anything that we want to.

So, why do we frequently see only a small handful of topics being covered by the mainstream media radio and television networks, by the newspapers and internet websites in the U.S.?

The mainstream news media in the U.S. such as ABC News, NBC News/ MSNBC, CBS News, FOX News, CNN, Thompson Reuters are all owned by multinational corporations.  ABC is owned by Disney Media Networks, NBC is owned by Comcast and CNN is owned by Time Warner.  The boards of directors of those companies select the staff who oversee the television and radio news shows, the websites or the printed media that are owned by those parent corporations.  Of all of the large companies which comprise the “mainstream media” in the U.S., the Associated Press is the only one that I could find which operates as a not for profit cooperative.

The primary goal of the parent companies who own the mainstream media outlets in the U.S. is to keep producing their annual profits from selling newspapers, keep their subscribers renewing the subscriptions to their websites, and to maintain high ratings among their television and radio audiences.

The executives at these companies have undertaken extensive market research, they’ve held numerous focus groups, and they thoroughly understand their customers.  The executives who work at the parent corporations of the mainstream media outlets in the U.S. fully comprehend that they’ll be likely to keep their subscribers and their high ratings if they continue to use the same formula that they’ve been using for many decades, in which they concentrate a lot of attention on a relatively small handful of issues, and concurrently they fear that if they begin to cover a lot more issues on their news programs, they may risk losing their subscribers and damaging their ratings.

With regard to the issues that the mainstream media does cover, their coverage is thorough.  For the most part, from what I’ve observed, the mainstream media in the U.S. does not fabricate “facts,” as the media seems to do in some countries.

When the major news networks or news agencies in the U.S. opt to cover a story, their coverage is, in fact, deep; they do scrutinize minute details of many of the topics that they cover, and when they do make mistakes, they usually correct them very quickly.

However, there are quite a few issues and topics that the mainstream media in the U.S. hardly ever mentions at all.

We do tend to see a broader spectrum of topics covered in the news shows which are operated by non commercial television and radio companies.

The PBS television stations are largely funded by the Corporation For Public Broadcasting, and the CPB also contributes to funding National Public Radio.  The NPR stations are funded by a combination of public as well as private funds, the NPR station is all non-commercial.  The Pacifica Radio Network’s stations are also non- commercial and independently owned, and we do see a broader spectrum of topics covered on the PBS, NPR and the Pacifica Radio Network’s news shows that we do on the major networks which are owned by international corporations, though there are issues which I feel that the news shows which are aired by these stations tend to frequently overlook too.

I’ve found that in the U.S., the largest variety of topics can be found on the three C-Span television channels.   The three C-Span channels cover a very broad array of topics, they cover topics which are of historical interest, they air a lot of programs which are about current events, and in fact, you will find coverage of some of the topics that I write about for The Pavlovic Today on C-Span.

The C-Span channels are funded directly by the National Cable Satellite Corporation, which is funded by peoples’ subscriptions to the telecommunications companies who provide cable television service, so there are no potential profits to be gained or lost when they cover issues which the mainstream media hardly ever mentions at all.  While C-Span obviously does have directors, they don’t have a corporate board comparable to the networks of the mainstream media, and C-span does not have any advertising either.

With specific regard to local news channels throughout the U.S., government access channels, as well as public access channels, are also funded by the fees from the subscriptions that viewers pay when we subscribe to cable television service.  The topics that local news shows which air on government access channels and on public access channels, as well as the depth of coverage of these topics that you’ll find on these shows, varies greatly throughout the U.S.

Is The Mainstream Media In The U.S. Really Neutral And Unbiased?

The FCC enacted the Fairness Doctrine in 1949, and they ended this policy in 1987.  The Fairness Doctrine had stated that all radio and television news media were required to devote equal amounts of time to parties who represent opposing viewpoints when they were discussing controversial issues.

While the Fairness Doctrine was repealed in 1987, though the FCC does still adhere to the Equal Time rule (originally enacted in 1927 as the “Radio Act,” seven years later, the “Radio Act” was replaced with the Communications Act of 1934) which states that all news shows need to devote equal time to covering candidates from opposing parties during the campaigns leading up to all national as well as local elections.

While I feel that the removal of the Fairness Doctrine from the FCC’s rules has resulted in limiting the various viewpoints that we see about the issues that the mainstream media covers, I don’t believe that the removal of the Fairness Doctrine has contributed significantly to limiting the number of topics that the media covers.

A Brief Comparison With Media In Other Countries

From what I’ve seen, the national networks in other countries such as RTÉ News, BBC News, CBC News, and Al Jazeera tend to devote a lot more coverage to parties, candidates, and elections in the developing world, conflicts throughout the developing world, as well as to natural disasters, disaster relief and recovery throughout the entire world than the mainstream media outlets in the U.S. which I’ve mentioned doing.

Al Jazeera America only operated from 2013 through 2016.  Al Jazeera America television network, as well as the accompanying website, also covered a very broad spectrum of topics relevant to both national as well as local issues throughout the U.S.  In 2016, the Al Jazeera America network ceased all of their programmings indefinitely, the network was attracting notably few viewers, and they were operating at a financial loss.

Has This Always Been The Situation In The U.S.?

The U.S. Library Of Congress’ National Audiovisual Conservation Center now houses many hundreds of thousands of hours of recordings of news radio broadcasts from the earliest days of commercial radio in the early 1920’s, continuing up through the present day in their Packard Campus in Culpeper, Virginia.  The National Audiovisual Conservation Center also preserves many hundreds of thousands of hours of television news broadcasts, dating from the earliest days of commercial television in the 1930’s, continuing up into the present day.

I’m not an expert in the history of media communications in the 20th century in the U.S., and I’ve not scrutinized the Library Of Congress’ archives; from what the vintage recordings and footage of radio and television news broadcasts from the 1920’s through the 1970’s that I have listened to and watched, and based on the reprints of older newspaper and magazine articles that I have read, the present situation is nothing new at all.

From the vintage recordings, footage and articles that I’ve listened to watched and read, the mainstream media in the U.S. have seemingly almost always concentrated the vast majority of attention on a handful of issues.  The coverage of the issues that the media does opt to cover has almost always been very in-depth, accurate and thorough, but there have always been a number of issues that the mainstream media in the U.S. tend to overlook.  There are quite a few issues which the mainstream media almost never mention at all, and there are other issues which they mention only briefly and infrequently.

Does This Have To Remain The Situation In The U.S.?

While there are no shortage of high ranking executives who work on the boards of directors of the parent companies who own the mainstream media outlets in the U.S. who do have their own political agenda, and this does affect the selection of topics that newspapers, television news stations, radio stations and news websites will cover, the news in the U.S. is ultimately market driven.

If the executives who work at the boards of directors at the parent corporations who own most of the mainstream media outlets believed that they’d me making more of a profit by covering issues that we usually only see on the C-Span channels than the profits that they’re currently making by sticking with the formulas that they use when they create their radio and television news shows, when they select the stories that they’ll print in newspapers and which stories that they intend to post on news websites, we’d be seeing a very different selection of topics on radio and television news shows, in newspapers as well as on news websites.

Because the parent companies who own the mainstream media outlets in the U.S. are all multinational corporations who are operating in a number of countries throughout the world which have free market economies, their selection of which news stories that they wish to cover news is mostly market driven, and so if we want to see a broader array of topics covered in the mainstream media here in the U.S., the decision really lays in the hands of we, the people of the United States Of America.

If you want to see a broader spectrum of topics covered by the mainstream media, then we have to let them know that.  Call into their news shows, write letters to the newspapers or readers comments’ in the newspapers’ websites, call into their radio news shows, write into their websites, they will eventually get the message.

Alternatively, we can continue to expect to see coverage of only a handful of issues in the mainstream media into the 2020’s and the 2030’s- very in-depth and accurate coverage, illustrated with state- of- the- art graphics, but we can still expect the mainstream media to continue to ignore quite a few issues unless we let them know that some of the issues that we usually only see on the C-Span channels deserve a lot more coverage.

If the mainstream media were to cover some of these issues, these issues would no longer seem to be “obscure,” and candidates who are campaigning for various offices throughout the U.S. would start paying a lot more attention to many of these issues.

Media Outlets: Who Controls What We Read?

Scott Benowitz is a staff writer for Afterimage Review. He holds an MSc in Comparative Politics from The London School of Economics & Political Science and a B.A. in International Studies from Reed...

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