Does Media Ownership Affect Media Stands? The Case of the Telecommunications Act of 1996
Democratic theory suggests that media should act in the interests of ordinary citizens. If a highly influential segment of the media presents information in a way that systematically favors its interests over other interests, democracy may be weakened. Media organizations, reacting to concern about such "bias," often insist that they follow a "norm of objectivity," separating their business interests from their news operations. Media scholars tend to confirm that such a norm of objectivity pervades newsrooms. On February 1, 1996, Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, one provision of which gave existing TV broadcasters free usage of spectrum valued at between $11 and $70 billion. Opponents called this a "giveaway" and one of the largest "corporate welfare" programs in United States history. In the months preceding and following passage of the Act, TV broadcasters actively lobbied against their opponents. The research here suggests that the separation of "church and state" was crossed; media owners' economic interests affected their news coverage. Generalizations from this case should be made with caution because of the extraordinarily high stakes involved for media owners.
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