For three decades scholars in mass communication and criminology have called our attention to the role of the media in the social construction of crime. Study after study has documented how media representations in both the entertainment and news arenas have created a social reality of a dangerous world full of danger and risk populated by stereotyped “others” (Jewkes, 2010; Marsh and Melville, 2009). A flood of mediated images emanating from our televisions, computers, books, newspapers and magazines, movies and even popular music instruct us on the seemingly natural order of the social world. It is through this incessant institutionalized attack on our senses that we come to experience what Jock Young (2007) calls the vertigo of modern society. But the irony of all this is that our fears, prejudices, stereotypes, and pervasive impulses toward meanness and retribution are something less than real. They are fabricated, mediated images offered to us as news and entertainment by a handful of immense and very motivated global corporations inextricably bound to state power.
As we entered the 21st Century the power of the media reemerged as a compelling and urgent concern. As early as 1983 scholars were commenting on the problems of increasing media corporatization and the concentration of ownership in fewer and fewer hands (Bagdikian, 2004; Bennett, 2004; McChesney, 2008; Thussu, 2006; Hesmondhalgh, 2007). But as newer technologies created new and more diverse platforms for mass communication some argued that the danger of media consolidation was being offset by access to the internet, proliferating channels on cable television and community access to some cable systems. It was argued that domination of all five media platforms, TV/satellite, radio/music, film, print and the internet was virtually unachievable.
What is clear today is that the concern about concentrated ownership and power manifest in a small number of transnational media corporations was not only justified but massively understated. The combined forces of deregulation, diversification, corporatization and globalization have created the perfect storm in mass communications. Today five massive transnational corporations dominate all five media platforms in all corners of the world (Arsensault and Castells, 2008; Flew, 2007). Globalization, corporatization and diversification have served to create and solidify a global network of heavily interlocked media corporations dominated by five transnational media conglomerates: Time Warner/ CNN, Disney/ABC, NewsCorp/FOX, NBC/GE and CBS.
The Perfect Storm
Both the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) began pushing for media privatization around the world as early as 1995 resulting in the denationalization of media distribution and production (McChesney, 2008; Sterling, 2000). National media regulatory bodies responded by repealing or significantly weakening legal restrictions on media ownership. In the United States the 1996 Telecommunication Act and subsequent actions by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) opened the floodgate for media company mergers and acquisitions.
Mergers, acquisitions and takeovers in the media industry were obviously facilitated by the neo-liberal push to deregulate and privatize. Those mergers and acquisitions created ever larger, and still growing international media conglomerates. From a market perspective these mergers and acquisitions made perfect sense. They were rational decisions made by corporations seeking to maximize sales, increase production efficiency, and create strong positions in global markets (Croteau and Hoynes, 2006).
The structural reorganization of the media industry in the past decade has been defined by growth, integration, globalization and concentration of ownership. In addition to simply growing through mergers and acquisitions, the media giants have been integrating both vertically and horizontally (Croteau and Hoynes, 2006). Horizontal integration has seen the largest media companies moving into all forms of media: television and cable; music and radio; print; film and the Internet. Vertical integration has seen those same companies acquiring different stages of the production and distribution system. The media giants have globalized by extending their markets worldwide and by acquiring holdings worldwide. And as we have seen while all this is happening media ownership bas become more and more concentrated (Croteau, Hoynes and Milan, 2011; Flew, 2007).
Technology also opened the door to increasing concentration of ownership. The digitalization of information allowed the integration of different kinds of media and communications technology creating one digitized network composed of telecommunications, the Internet and the mass media (Jenkins, 2006; Schiller, 1999).
The result of all of this is that (1) media ownership is highly concentrated; and (2) a few massive media conglomerates are able to deliver a wide diversity of products over all five communications platforms. The largest media corporations not only own more properties than ever before but they also own the platforms through which content is delivered. Put very simply, five transnational corporations dominate both the access to and the forms of mass communication.
Integrating Media and Finance
The concentration of ownership and control in a small number of media corporations was not the only outcome of the perfect storm. Today, the corporate boards of directors of the five largest media multinationals are liberally populated by representatives of the most influential banks, venture capital firms, and other corporations central to the financial industry such as insurance and real estate companies and financial services corporations (Arsensault and Castells, 2008). This marriage of convenience is important for a number of reasons.
First, these transnational media conglomerates are in and of themselves vital cogs in the networks of financial capital. According to the Financial Times, they are among the world’s largest companies when measured by market capitalization.
Second, it was an enormous flow of capital from banks and venture capitalists that funded the mergers and acquisitions which created these media giants. For example, in 2007 alone venture capitalists invested over $50 billion in these media properties (Arsensault and Castells, 2008).
Third, these media corporations are a major source of financial capital. They are all integrated into transnational networks of finance capital, being able to both attract significant investment and provide the capital to other smaller corporate entities (Arsensault and Castells, 2008). These five immense media giants serve as the nodes through which finance and media interact and become mutually dependent.
In addition to the disproportionate representation of banks, venture capital firms, and other financial institutions on the boards of directors of the five multinational media giants there is also a disproportionate representation of other media and communications technology companies. This representation of ostensible competitors means three things.
First, the media monoliths can operate together in exploiting markets and technologies. Second, the dominant media conglomerates can exercise even greater political influence in protecting their holdings and their power. And third, the integration of finance and media is even deeper than an initial survey of seats on the boards of directors would indicate. In fact, the boards of directors of these five media giants become incubators for the creation of even greater flows of finance capital.
The extent of these interlocks on the boards of the five largest transnational media corporations is compelling, as Table 1 shows.