The Political Economy of Media

Rich Media, Poor Democracy: Communication Politics in Dubious Times

At a time of technological wonders, communication breakthroughs, and near limitless online ways to stay informed, our society is largely depoliticized. Political involvement is weak, and it’s evident when presidential and off-year elections are held. Routinely, half or less of the electorate turns out, and those most in need show up least often or not at all. It mocks the idea of democracy, but who can blame people when candidates are pre-selected, machines do our voting, candidates who lose are declared winners, and winners don’t complain.

What’s the cause? More than anything, the dominant media that’s “become a significant antidemocratic force….” They’re larger and more influential than ever. Combined they’re the main information source for most people, and it’s in their interest to marginalize the public to shut out any interference with their commercial aims. Profits uber alles are paramount. Concentrated power and hyper-commercialism are dominant, and when combined with the sorry state of today’s journalism it’s easy to understand the problem. Fixing it will be no easy task.

The “corporate media explosion” corresponded with the “implosion of public life,” and McChesney calls it “the rich media/poor democracy paradox.” He cites two components:

— a political crisis; our hyper-commercialized corporate media system bodes ill for our politics and society; a crisis this great is totally off-limits for discussion; how and by whom the media is controlled, and how it’s structured and subsidized should be at the heart of discussion; and

— media ideology; its defense is indefensible – that markets “give the people what they want;” commercialized media are innately democratic; so is nonpartisan, objective professional journalism; new technologies are inherently democratic; and most important, the First Amendment gives media giants and advertisers unfettered free speech rights without public or government interference; this reasoning is no more credible than the discredited American exceptionalism notion, except in its negative sense.

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