Bernie Sanders on Media Ownership & Telecommunications

In the United States today, 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.

According to Bernie Sanders, this 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 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

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.

When these corporations absorb or overshadow smaller communications outlets, it limits variety and diversity in the content we consume. This lack of diversity and overarching media control by a few owners even concerns President Barack Obama and former President Jimmy Carter.

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.”

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, in the past ten years alone, Disney has acquired more than five different media outlets including Pixar Animation and Marvel Studios.

Here’s a detailed infographic that shows the full scope of the situation:


Wow, how did only a handful of corporations get a hold of all the major networks?

When President Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 into law, it eased restrictions on media cross-ownership so that one company — or person — could own multiple media businesses (like broadcast stations, cable stations, newspapers, and websites). Though the law was intended to increase competition by reducing regulation, it instead “allowed large corporations to strengthen their dominance through mergers and buyouts.”

But just because these networks and stations are all owned by the same people, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re biased, right?

While the jury is still out on the effects of media selection bias, there is research that points to its occurrence and influence. Additionally, the Pew Research Center has shown how 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.

So what does Bernie have to say about it?

Bernie has argued that this current situation 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 been consistently outspoken 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

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.

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.

OK, but what’s wrong with that? It is their Internet, right?

Nope. It’s ours.

See, advocates argue that permitting preferential treatment of web traffic would put newer Internet companies at a disadvantage and threaten innovation. This is a fundamental free speech issue that could give corporations even more control over our access to information.

Want to know more about the case for net neutrality? Check out this video:

So where does Bernie stand on the issue?

Bernie has consistently fought to maintain the Internet as an affordable service with free access.

Want to learn more about his position? Learn more about Bernie’s record and proposed policies privacy & digital rights.