and the Homogeneity of the Media Elite
by Peter Phillips with research assistance from
Bob Klose, Nicola Mazumdar, and Alix Jestron
1998 Censored News Stories
Images of the zealous censor or "public relations official"
imply that censorship is an intentional act. However, contemporary
analysis tends to stress that the structure of media organizations
themselves are creating latent forms of censorship that can be
just as damaging as intentional censorship.
The operation of latent censorship is analyzed in Manufacturing
Consent (1988; and updated in Hennan, 1996). The authors Ed Herman
and Noam Chomsky claim that because media is firmly imbedded in
the market system, it reflects the class values and concerns of
its owners and advertisers. They hold that the media maintains
a corporate class bias though five systemic filters: concentrated
private ownership; a strict bottom-line profit orientation; over-reliance
on governmental and corporate sources for news; a primary tendency
to avoid offending the powerful; and an almost religious worship
of the market economy, devaluing alternative beliefs. These filters
limit what will become news in society and set parameters on acceptable
coverage of daily events.
The danger of these filters is that they produce subtle and
indirect forms of censorship which are all the more difficult
to combat. Owners and managers share class identity with the powerful
and are motivated economically to please advertisers and viewers.
Their conceptions of what is "newsworthy" are influenced
by their social background, and their values seem, to themselves,
only "common sense." Journalists and editors are not
immune to the influence of owners and managers. Journalists want
to see their stories approved for print or broadcast, and editors
come to know the limits of their freedom to diverge from the "common
sense" world view of owners and managers. The self-discipline
which this structure induces in journalists and editors filters
down as "common sense" to these employees as well. Self-discipline
becomes self-censorship. Independence is restricted. And the filtering
process is hidden and often denied, or rationalized away.
Media news organizations like ABC, NBC, CBS, and Time Warner
are massive bureaucratic organizations that function like all
other bureaucracies. Survival into perpetuity and ever-increasing
profits are logical and necessary measures of their success. Corporations
have evolved to work in exactly this way. Policies towards these
ends are set through privately-owned hierarchical command structures
whose number-one consideration is the bottom-line success of the
Management theorists use the term "corporate culture"
to distinguish the internalization of "common sense"
understandings that operate within the corporate environment.
Employees who continually clash with the corporate culture are
gradually weeded out.
In large media organizations, journalists and writers trained
in critical thinking, analysis, research, and freedom of information
values must become acculturated to the "common sense"
understandings of the organizational structure in order to remain
employed. Understandings regarding objective reporting, standards
of critical inquiry, socio-political perspectives, conflict of
interests, and other abstract values are organizationally created
and interpreted to new employees as "the way we do things."
These organizational values are understood by veteran news workers,
and communicated to new employees through both word and action.
At times a special mentor arrangement develops between a senior
worker and new employee that will accelerate the assimilation
of the organizational culture and the positive chances for the
new employee's advancement and promotion.
The responsibility for development of a corporate culture
lies with the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). CEOs are selected
by and receive direction from the corporation's board of directors.
These directors are elected to the board by stockholders and hold
the ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of the
corporation. Consequently, CEOs are generally like-minded individuals
similar to the corporate board of directors. CEOs, in turn, hire
executives, who in turn hire staff who reflect the values and
profit orientation of the CEO and board. That this happens is
neither surprising nor unusual in the corporate world of international
What has been surprising and unusual is how rapidly so many
large media corporations have embarked on a massive merging and
buy-out process that is realigning our information systems into
global corporate structures (Bagdikian, 1997; Herman & McChesney,
1997). Again, there is nothing illogical about this process. Monetary
capital seeks the most profitable return on investment, and media/information
technology properties are seen as the future growth market of
What changes within media organizations with conglomeration
is that traditional core values having to do with freedom of information
and a belief in the responsibility of keeping the public informed
on critical issues give way to the "common sense" values
of bottom-line oriented CEOs and boards of directors. Freedom
of information is a value as long as it sells advertising and
attracts viewers, readers, and listeners. But information or news
that discourages advertising, offends or challenges the audience,
or is contrary to the interests and values of the CEO/Executive
Board is not deemed valuable information within the logical fiscal
orientation of the organization.
Corporate fiscal concerns are changing our media systems.
For example, in 1997, the new CEO of the Los Angeles Times found
it necessary to assign a business manager to each section of the
newspaper in order to insure that a proper profit-oriented product
was developed and to help maintain a corporate climate that reflected
the management desires of the board of directors.
Even the Columbia Journalism Review, a leading publication
monitoring journalism, has, under the leadership of former Fortune
editor Marshall Loeb, been steering itself towards "gossip
and celebrity" in order to increase sales (Cohen, 1997).
Similarly, book reviews that appear in The New York Times are
now linked to a Barnes and Noble Web site so that if a book is
sold, The Times gets a percentage of the sale (Stone, 1997).
With the changing structure of media organizations, an important
focus for study of global media systems will be the values and
biases of the boards of directors, and their corporate interests,
connections, and understandings. Simply allowing the logic of
private profit-taking to determine the outcome of access to information
in our society puts democracy and freedom dangerously at risk.
If the corporate media elite are to be the ultimate decision makers,
policy formers, and corporate-culture determiners, then we must
focus our research attention on them to determine the implications
of their burgeoning power for democracy and freedom of information
in the world.
Collectively ... 11 major broadcast and print media corporations
represent a major portion of the news information systems, providing
multiple links to most every household in the United States. For
many people, this means that their entire source of news and information
comes through the filters of these 11 corporations.
An analysis of the interconnectedness of the top 11 media
organizations in the United States shows that they have 36 direct
links ... creating a solid network of overlapping interests and
affiliations. The 11 media corporations collectively have directorships
interlocking with 144 of the Fortune 1,000 corporations. All 11
media corporations have direct links with at least two of the
other top media organizations. General Electric, owner of NBC,
has the highest rate of shared affiliations with 17 direct links
to 9 of the 11 corporations. Time Warner Inc. came in second with
ten links to seven of the other media corporations.
What becomes clear ... is the top media corporations in America
are directly linked to 14 percent of the Fortune 1,000 corporations.
Additionally, they receive advertising money from a significant
portion of the other Fortune 1,000. Given this networking system,
it is safe to say that the media in the United States effectively
represents the interests of corporate America, and that the media
elite are the watchdogs of what constitutes acceptable ideological
messages, the parameters of news and information content, and
the general use of media resources.
Do the media elite directly censor the news? Without being
privy to insider conversations, it is difficult to prove direct
censorship by management of particular stories in the news. But
clearly there is a widespread tendency among media corporations
to comply with the general corporate culture, and this culture
is shored up by career-minded employees with "common sense"
understandings. This combination tends to achieve what direct
censorship cannot, that is a general compliance with the attitudes,
wishes, and expectations of the media elite and, in turn, corporate