Bernie Sanders on Media Ownership & Telecommunications
“In 1983, the largest 50 corporations controlled 90 percent of the media. Today, as a result of massive mergers and takeovers, six corporations control 90 percent of what we see, hear, and read…These powerful corporations also have an agenda, and it would be naive not to believe that their views and needs impact coverage of issues important to them.” – Bernie Sanders, 2017
In the United States, six media conglomerates control almost all forms of mainstream media. Consequently, fewer and fewer people are determining what we watch, hear, and read — compromising our access to accurate and unbiased information. Bernie calls media consolidation a threat to democracy that violates the core principles of American government as “we cannot live in a vibrant democracy unless people get divergent sources of information.” To combat this problem, Bernie continues to focus on media consolidation and has consistently called out media conglomerates on their dishonest practices. He has fought for affordable cable television prices, supports net neutrality, and wants to protect and encourage independent news sources across all media platforms.
Media Consolidation: We should discourage media market consolidation and create space for diverse and substantive journalism. We should encourage competition between cable companies in order to lower prices. We should support local, independent media outlets.
Internet Access & Net Neutrality: The Internet should be free and open, and Internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all data that travels over their networks equally, without prioritizing some customers, sites, or services over others.
“Why is it that the mainstream media sees politics as entertainment, and largely ignores the major crises facing our country? The answer lies in the fact that corporate media is owned by, well, large multinational corporations.” – Bernie Sanders, 2017
Broadcasting and telecommunications services in the U.S. are largely controlled by six corporate conglomerates: Disney, CBS, News Corp., Viacom, Time Warner, and Comcast. The case is similar when it comes to print media and radio. Gannett Company, for example, owns over 1,000 newspapers and 600 magazines nationwide, including USA Today. iHeartMedia (formerly ClearChannel) owns 850 radio stations in the U.S. alone.
These 15 billionaires essentially own the media: Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, Rupert Murdoch, Donald & Samuel Newhouse, Cox Family, John Henry, Sheldon Adelson, Joe Mansueto, Mortimer Zuckerman, Barbey Family, Stanley Hubbard,Patrick Soon-Shiong, Carlos Slim Helu, Warren Buffett, Viktor Vekselberg. Behind the scenes, the billionaires control the news.
Many media personalities are millionaires with large contracts: Rachel Maddow, Wolf Blitzer, George Stephanopoulos. As Bernie says, “That does not make them evil or bad people. It just makes them very wealthy, corporate employees who bring to their jobs the perspective that very wealthy corporate employees bring.”
This graphic shows the extent of billionaire control over the news.
But there aren’t just six TV networks! I have hundreds of different news channels and shows to choose from.
True, but more than 90 percent of these different channels — whether they report news, broadcast sports, or re-run sitcoms — are subsidiaries of the same six networks. For example, Disney has acquired different media outlets including Pixar Animation, Marvel Studios, and 21st Century Fox. And the consolidations continue.
Here’s a detailed infographic that shows the full scope of the situation:
Wow, how did only a handful of corporations get control of all the major networks?
The Telecommunications Act of 1996, signed by President Bill Clinton, removed restrictions on media ownership. Prior to the law, there were rules prohibiting companies from owning broadcast stations, cable stations, newspapers, and websites in the same broadcast area. Once the restrictions disappeared, large corporations strengthened their dominance of media markets through mergers and buyouts. Small outlets were purchased or failed because they could not compete.
Now there are news deserts where there are no daily local newspapers.
What about internet news? Do only a few companies control internet news too?
Yes. The consolidation of media extends into digital too. Here’s a chart that show the extent of control over internet news by just a few media companies.
But just because these networks and stations are all owned by the same people, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re biased, right?
When a few large corporations absorb or overshadow smaller communications outlets, it limits variety and diversity in the content we consume and viewpoints we hear. This lack of diversity and media control by a few owners even concerned former President Barack Obama.
Why does this matter?
As civil and human rights coalition The Leadership Conference puts it, “access to the media by the broadest sector of society is crucial to ensuring that diverse viewpoints are presented to the American people, and that all sectors of society are accurately depicted.”
People know there’s a huge problem. In a 2016 Gallup poll, only about 20 percent of Americans say they have confidence in the television news and in newspapers. Research indicates that media bias may influence voter choices. Additionally, the Pew Research Center has shown that the current media landscape contributes to political polarization. Community-based media outlets are directly impacted with limited local control over programming decisions and independently produced programming. A Harvard study showed media bias in the 2016 primary election, which is a threat to democracy.
So what does Bernie have to say about it?
“We cannot live in a vibrant democracy unless people get divergent sources of information.” – Bernie Sanders
In 2017, Bernie wrote an editorial titled “How Corporate Media Threatens Our Democracy: This is a crisis we can no longer afford to ignore.”
He notes that important issues like poverty are not covered while political campaigns are covered “as if it were a game show, a baseball game, a soap opera, or a series of conflicts.”
He says: “Media shapes our very lives. It tells us what products we need to buy and, by the quantity and nature of coverage, what is “important” and what is “unimportant.” Media informs us as to the scope of what is “realistic” and “possible.”
Bernie has argued that media ownership in the hands of a few billionaires is antithetical to the pillars of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press guaranteed by the First Amendment:
“In my view, it will be very dangerous for our country and communities around America when one company is able to own a local newspaper, television station and radio station. Opposing points of view won’t be heard and our democracy will suffer.”
He has consistently spoken out against media consolidation and has “long fought against the unfair prices of our nation’s large cable TV monopolies that raise rates on consumers year after year, and often reduce channels available under basic cable packages.”
If you have 20 minutes to spare, watch this fantastic discussion on media consolidation between Bernie and Bill Moyers.
Has Bernie tried to do anything about it?
Bernie has consistently opposed media consolidation including, voting against the Telecommunications Act of 1996 mentioned above. Each time the FCC has tried to weaken media ownership regulations, Bernie has been on the front lines fighting for stronger protections for diversity in media.
Internet Access & Net Neutrality
“What net neutrality means is that everyone has the same access to the same information regardless of whether they are rich or poor, a major media outlet or a small blog. We have to close the digital gap, not expand it.” – Bernie February 20, 2017
In 2011, the United Nations declared access to the Internet to be a human right. Not only is it the largest source of global information exchange, our economy relies on it. After all, you’re on this site learning about Bernie’s positions and policies right now. And the fact that it’s completely decentralized is what makes it so useful. And, It’s ours.
Everyone knows the Internet is great. What does it have to do with politics?
There’s something called “net neutrality,” which refers to the principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all data that travels over their communications networks on an equal basis. That means that ISPs should not charge different rates to different customers or content-providers and should not give certain data special priority over their networks while interfering with the transmission of other information.
Want to know more about the case for net neutrality? Check out this video:
Permitting preferential treatment of web traffic would put newer Internet companies at a disadvantage and threaten innovation. Also, this is a fundamental free speech issue that could give corporations even more control over our access to information.
So where does Bernie stand on the issue?
Bernie supports net neutrality, the principle that information traveling over the internet should all be treated and routed equally, without preferential treatment. Bernie believes we have to close the digital gap, not expand it.
Bernie has consistently fought to maintain the Internet as an affordable service where everyone is treated the same. Bernie said, “Net neutrality is an issue of enormous consequence for our democracy. At a time when a handful of giant media conglomerates control much of what we see, hear and read it is imperative that we avoid corporate control of the internet.”
Watch Bernie explain why the openness and neutrality of the internet is so vital.
Learn more about where Bernie’s record and proposed policies on net neutrality and other digital rights here.