Corporate media industries - Threat or chance?

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2004

19 Pages, Grade: A (1,0)



1. Introduction
1.1 Main expression and their definitions and explanations
1.2 What are corporate interests?

2. Opposing views on the matter
2.1 Robert McChesney and the theory of neoliberalism
2.2 The counterpart: Benjamin Compaine
2.3 A compromise as the conclusion?

3. Case discussion: public service broadcasting vs. commercial television

of media giants (in the United Kingdom)

4. Conclusion

5. List of literature

6. Notes

1. Introduction

Under the influence of the worldwide globalization it has been said that the media is no longer only a domestic or national matter but it is becoming a global network with only some big media giants ruling the business.

In my work I will discuss this point of view and discover if contemporary journalism is going to be concentrated in a so-called corporate media ideology. But before starting it is necessary to commit on some general definitions and expressions I will use in this work. So my first questions will be how to define globalization, media concentration and what the so-called corporate interests of media giants are. In a next step I will go on discussing two opposing views on the matter by giving the examples of two famous communication scientists: Benjamin Compaine and Robert W. McChesney. To make their different argumentative structures more understandable I will finish with a case discussion underlining some of their points of view before I finally come to a conclusion.

1.1 Main expressions and their definitions and explanations

Of course, the understanding of globalization and concentration varies depending on the position you are watching on it. Michele Cini, for example, defines globalization in a quite formal way out of the view of a political scientist:

Globalization [is] a contested concept, which usually refers to the growing economic independence of state and non-state actors worldwide. Often associated with increased capital mobility and the spread of neo-liberal ideas, for example. It implies that market authority is enhanced at the cost of formal political authority. (2003, p. 419)

In contrast to this Allan Cochrane and Kathy Pain set their definition in relation to what is called the big debates [i] on globalization meaning that the definition of globalization depends on neither a so-called positive or pessimistic globalist, an inter-nationalist or a transformationalist is asked.

[Globalists] see globalization as an inevitable development which cannot be resisted or significantly influenced by human intervention, particularly through traditional political institutions, such as nation-states. (Quoted in Held, 2004, p.22)

While in Cochrane’s and Pain’s interpretation an inter-nationalist argues

that the significance of globalization as a new phase has been exaggerated. They believe that most economic and social activity is regional, rather than global, and still see a significant role for nation-states[.] (Quoted in Held, 2004, p.23)

Compared to this, transformationalists

believe that globalization represents a significant shift, but question the inevitability of its impacts. They argue that there is still significant scope for national, local and other agencies[.]

(Quoted in Held, 2004, p.23)

As you can see, it is impossible to give one definition which is then the only correct one. So, while reading this work keep in mind that there is a variety of thoughts about globalization and that one main characteristic is the fact of economic and financial flows as the neoliberalism (compare to Cini) explains. But also keep in mind what Cochrane and Pain tells us about the big debate because in chapter two you will recognize at least two different points of view corresponding to the big debate.


Concentration of media ownership is a

commonly used terms among media critics, policy makers, and others to characterize ownership structure of media industries. It is said to be concentrated usually in a state of oligopoly or monopoly in a given media industry. For example, movie production is known to be dominated by major studios since the early 20th Century.

(U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 2003)

You have to distinguish three forms of concentration which differs mainly in their inner structure. First there is horizontal concentration which means a union of enterprises on one market, e.g. newspapers. Secondly, vertical concentration which means that production steps in advance and afterwards are in any kind of connection like a producing firm for movies united with movie trade and a broadcasting station. Last there is digital concentration, meaning the creation of a multi-media concern with, for example, print media and electronic media united. Digital concentration can also be a union of enterprises from different branches like media and telecommunication. Talking about media concentration of global media giants you are normally reflecting to digital or at least vertical concentration.

Connected to the debating categories mentioned above the explanation of concentration also differs. Positive globalists, reflecting to Marshall McLuhans “global village”, argue that concentration with its multiplicity of voices is a chance for the society and that the citizens are ´no longer […] subject to the to the paternalism and elitism of national broadcasting systems´ (Mackay quoted in Held, 2004, p.81). Pessimistic globalists, like Robert W. McChesney in contrast, realize consequences for democratic values:

In the area of democracy, the emergence of [.] a highly concentrated media system in the hands of a huge private concerns violates in a fundamental manner any notion of a free press in domestic theory. (Quoted in Monthly Review, 2001, ll. 441-444)

Inter-nationalists hardly see anything like a global television and declare that ´[p]ublic service, national broadcasting is alive and well, albeit with reduced audience, under increasing pressure to compete, and in an environment which is uncertain and fast-changing` (Mackay quoted in Held, 2004, p.71) while transformationalists ´acknowledge important changes which are taking place in global culture flows, but see the outcome of these as more complex and less unidimensional than inter-nationalists or globalists suggest` (Mackay quoted in Held, 2004, p.78).

1.2 What are corporate interests?

Many of the debates about corporate interests in case of media ownership are about whether there are interests in democratizing the global world as some idealists want us to belief or there is only economic profit and striving for maximising the benefit in mind of the leaders. To follow the idealistic view first, there is the common meaning about the duty of press to inform the public on political issues so that citizens are able to create an own opinion resulting in a democratic electorate process. As a simple conclusion you could say: the more media, the more information results in a more democratic society. In addition, a diverse media reflects plurality in modern society (Compaine quoted on, 08.11.2004, ll. 2-3). Concentration of corporate and worldwide working media ownership would spread this idea globally and therefore help to democratize also developing countries. That is the theory which for example Benjamin Compaine is (more or less) following in some of his arguments but I will go in detail on this later in this work.

But the criticism of the idea of democratization is convincing by arguing like Michael Schudson who realizes it the other way round:

[T]he problem of modern democracy is that there is too much participation, and probably too much information (…). If the media were to do something salutary, they might say, it would be to discourage the people from taking an interest in politics. (1995, p. 204)

To give an example of the anti-democratic nature of media concentration, take a look on Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporations acting as a global concern.

[He] was reluctant for any wing of his empire to criticize China in the context of his aspirations for Star TV in that country; more recently, there was considerable concern when he tried to buy Manchester United. (Mackay quoted in Held, 2004, p. 60)

In his work “Civil Society. Old images, New Visions.” John Keane also added another point of view to the debate opposing the positive one globalists and transformationalists like Benjamin Compaine are following. Keane, similar to Schudson, also does not believe in the idealistic and only democratic interests of media ownerships. For him concentration is no new phenomenon but the effects and intuitions of corporate media has changed:

A prior form of concentration of media capital has, of course, been under way for a century, especially in the magazines and newspaper industries (…). The current globalization of media firms represents a projection of this process of concentration on the international plane. (…) The development of globe-girdling communication firms (…) was not driven by the motive of funding the development of international publics. (…) [T]he process, which is virtually without historical precedence, is driven by reasons of political economy

(1998, p. 166)

I would agree to this explanation of the common corporate interest motivated by mainly economic reasons. ´The media aim is to create money` (Schudson, 1995, p.205) and the advantage of acting globally and corporately over nationally based counterparts are quite obvious. Media giants can use synergy effects of cross-ownership and sell their products not only in one country but in several.

[T]ransnational media firms are often able to evade nation-state regulations and shift the core energies of the whole operations from one market to another as political and legal cultural climates change. (Keane, 1998, p.167)

Trough mergers, acquisition and joint ventures the big concerns have the power to control distribution and content of media and that means consequences for the media market as Mackay mentioned:

With the growth of advertising-financed services, audience maximization has become increasingly important in shaping programming. The outcome has been not a greater range or quality of programming, but the reverse (…). (Quoted in Held 1998, p. 60)

To summarize this up you can say that the main corporate interests of contemporary journalism concentrated in big conglomerates are economic interests although you can argue on democratic values as well.

As you can read on the homepage of Bertelsmann AG, which is one of the seven globally leading media giants[ii], it is the aim of the firm to guide the process of building international top content and brands across media, and promoting them in the best possible way. It is obvious what these big firms are striving for (the leading heads of Bertelsmann like Rolf Schmidt-Holz, chief creative officer, call it their “mission”)[iii]: The ultimate purpose of these media players is to be leaders in the markets in which they operate. The joint efforts focus on customer relations and strong return of capital. Therefore they commit their selves to continuity and progress of the corporation. To lead the media world means to reduce financial risk, enhance profit-making opportunities and refer to be outflanked by competitors. Competition is only partially given in the common global media system because it is one interest of multinational concerns to reduce competitive factors. Many of the big media firms has the same shareholders or own pieces of one another what finally results in a ´complex web of interrelationships` (McChesney quoted in Monthly Review, 2001, l. 355). Connected with money is always the striving of power. Economic power on the one hand and of course political power as well. The political measure of national deregulation of media, which once began in major nations like the United States and Britain, cleared the ground to for investments by multinational corporations in regional and global markets (McChesney quoted in Monthly Review, 2001, ll. 172.174). But I will go into detail about political influence by analyzing McChesney argumentative structure in chapter 2.


[i] Compare: David Held, 2004

[ii] The seven media giants are: The Walt Disney Corporation, AOL-Time Warner, Sony, News Corporation, Viacom, Vivendi Universal and the Bertelsmann AG (McChesney, 2001, p.3)

[iii] compare to:

Excerpt out of 19 pages


Corporate media industries - Threat or chance?
University of Agder  (Political Science Fakultet for Okonomi og samfunn)
Power, politics and the media
A (1,0)
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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576 KB
Corporate, Threat, Power
Quote paper
Katharina Jacobs (Author), 2004, Corporate media industries - Threat or chance?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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