'Freeing' the press from corporate control

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard the phrase “the liberal media” or “the media elite” in the past four years alone, I could probably afford to pay the rumored $660 million asking price for The Tribune Company.

The Tribune Company is home to several major U.S. newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune and may (or may not) be for sale for over half a billion dollars.

Among the company’s potential “suitors” are Tea Party linchpins Charles and David Koch, whose amassed fortune totals over $34 billion each.

The progressive nonprofit organization The Other 98% hopes to prevent any such sale to the Koch brothers and has started “Free the Press,” a crowdsourced fundraising campaign to “take back” and “democratize the media.”

So far, over 1,300 “funders” have pledged funds, totaling $100,000 — no small feat, but an almost laughable pittance compared to $660 million (you have to wonder if tax is included in the price).

According to the campaign page on IndieGoGo, the Other 98% theorize that just as the Green Bay Packers are community-owned and operate on a non-profit basis, so too can major newspapers operate free of corporate control.

It’s all a bit pie in the sky, and thankfully this fact does not escape the founders of the campaign; they consider this a stepping stone for a broader conversation about media ownership and the effects of a “corporatized media.”

Few can possibly doubt the unyielding and unceasing impact of the media on individual lives. The news media in particular provides crucial information that helps individuals make relatively informed decisions and those decisions in turn affect others around them.

Coverage of major events can range from incisive and groundbreaking (rare) to trite and downright manipulative, a charge leveled at news organizations representing myriad political perspectives. People simply don’t trust the media anymore.

Gone are the Walter Cronkites and the Edward R. Murrows. Instead, we have pundit culture, the scandal culture, the celebrity trial culture. Stories that might have once graced the cover of the trashiest tabloids are now apparently tickertape worthy, and coverage stories with more substance than flash get pushed to the B block or buried on page A-26.

Is this the fault of corporate control or is this the natural and inevitable result of the freedom of the press?

The free press is usually seen as a democratic ideal, necessary for the maintenance of a healthy democracy (or in our case, a republic). But the First Amendment’s protection of the freedoms of the press only applies to the state and federal governments.

Does a truly free press require complete independence, even from corporations?

One of the inherent and most glaring contradictions of the media is that larger news outlets are generally considered more credible. If a report in The New York Times differs from a report in The Podunk Town Blog, you can usually bet the Times has it right. If given the choice between The Wall Street Journal and the Drudge Report, the Journal is again the better source.

The Times and the Journal are corporately owned by The New York Times Company and Dow Jones & Company (which is owned by News Corporation), respectively.

Credibility and accuracy are not necessarily one and the same, of course, but the major players in the news media world are supported and controlled by corporations.

To the Other 98%, this is a serious problem facing American democracy. After all, how free can your press be if it has to please corporate owners, who by definition have interests that differ vastly from the concerns of ordinary American citizens?

Reach the columnist at skthoma4@asu.edu or follow her at @SavannahKThomas

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