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Media concentration is a phenomenon in which decreasing numbers of individuals and organizations own media outlets, effectively concentrating the ownership of multiple organizations into the control of very few entities. This is a topic of interest for government agencies, journalists, and academics who study how and where people get information about ongoing events. Some critics believe media concentration poses a threat to the free exchange of information and support the use of regulation to increase independence in media. Others feel that government intervention is not necessary.
The development of media concentration often spans platforms. A newspaper owner might start by buying other regional newspapers that appear to complement an original property. That party might also branch out into radio stations and television networks, as well as magazines and publishing houses. Eventually, a single entity can end up with control over or a voting share in a significant number of media sources.
In this scenario, while individual outlets typically act independently, they are accountable to the same parent organization. A head office may dictate editorial standards and guidelines, and shapes the kind of coverage consumers can access. In a region where media concentration allows for an effective monopoly on news providers, a single person or company could have a significant impact on the information freely accessible to residents.
This can be exacerbated by mergers between large companies or families of news outlets. Members of the public are often not aware of the extent of media concentration, as companies continue to act under their own branding, with their own personnel. While disclosures about ownership by a head organization are typically required by law, consumers may not see them, or may not understand what they mean. In some cases partner companies syndicate content, and consumers may encounter the same stories repeatedly, under different logos.
Concerns about media concentration surround the potential for the control of access to information, as well as the influence media outlets can have on events like elections. In nations with highly balanced independent media, it can be more difficult for a single media entity to have a significant influence on an election. If, on the other hand, most citizens get news from the same company through a series of seemingly different publications and broadcasters, they may be under the impression that they are getting balanced information, when in fact all the news outlets they encounter advance the same editorial policy.
Media concentration is a real concern for the US and will only exacerbate in the future. We are now entering an oligopoly where a few behemoths have the overwhelming majority of control, even if it seems like there a lot of companies in this space. This threatens the diversity of perspectives that reach the public.
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