This weekend, a video began making the rounds on social media. Spliced together by the website Deadspin, it showed a number of local TV newscasters commenting — in unison — on the sorry state of media in America.
“Some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias,” they said together, some staring into the camera like hostages. “This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.”
The irony here that’s drawn so much outrage from the American left is that the commentary was made as part of a “must-run” segment from stations owned and operated by Sinclair Broadcast Group. The Maryland-based conglomerate owns more than 170 local TV stations in 89 U.S. markets, and should it succeed in buying competitor Tribune Media, it would add 42 more stations to the mix.
Sinclair, as it happens, is also unabashedly conservative. As it has gobbled up more and more of the country’s local TV stations, so too has it increased the frequency with which it pushes these “must-run” segments that are, in so many words, not local news.
As such, this has not only made Sinclair anathema to American liberals, but tantamount to propaganda, and conservative propaganda at that.
We won’t argue with this characterization. Sinclair has an openly cozy relationship with the Trump Administration, and segments featuring “fake news” and the “deep state” are commonplace. So much of this anger, it seems, is rooted not in the core nature of Sinclair’s business, but in the politics of that business.
Thus, in response to this weekend’s furor, there’s been more than a few think pieces about how this Sinclair stuff is a bit overblown. Writing for Politico, Jack Shafer said, “But as long as I can still change my local channel and avoid Sinclair’s partisan hackery, where’s the crisis?”
This misses the point. The real issue is, and really always has been since regulations were loosened in 1996, the increasing consolidation of all media by giant conglomerates.
Five companies control 90 percent of American media: Disney, Newscorp (which owns Fox-branded properties), National Amusements (which owns CBS and Viacom), Time Warner and Comcast.
We should not concern ourselves only with the most conservative of these conglomerates, because the problem is clearly deeper than that. Media consolidation, by its very nature, will limit the number of choices for us, the consumers.
So sure, we may be able to change the channel now, but what if we can’t? There are no longer regulations in place to limit the influence of a single corporation in a single media market. It is wholly possible that these singular corporations can wield total control in the smallest of markets, the markets where there aren’t four or five different options for local news.
And these local stations, away from the “coastal elite” that so chafe at conservatives across the country, by and large mimic the views and culture of their chosen market. A TV station in the middle of Kansas will not be the same as a TV station in L.A.
So when a company like Sinclair comes in and starts buying out all the little guys and then purposefully homogenizing them, we really are losing something. And if we don’t make a stink about it now, even if the current outrage really is just partisanship manifest, then we shouldn’t be surprised if the worst really does come to pass.
Indeed, it may already be on its way.
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