U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks to members of the media in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, 6 December 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

By Rashad Mammadov

Two years ago, a pair of American political scientists published a study that found that the U.S. system of government is closer to oligarchy — or rule by the few — than to democracy.

Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University concluded that the United States is dominated by a rich and powerful elite.

What about the U.S. media? Is it also an oligarchy?

In the United States, six corporations control nearly 90% of mass media. By comparison, in 1983 there were 50 companies, mostly owned by the families of the entrepreneurs who originally created the media outlets. A series of consolidations, mergers and buy-outs created a monopolistic media ownership.

It is not so much the ownership that should concern us, but whether or not the messages emanating from these media organizations are similar. And it doesn’t look good.

Why didn’t the liberal media help the Democratic candidate to win?

You would think that in the polarized political environment of the United States, media distribution would be relatively equal between the two major parties – Republicans and Democrats.

In fact, almost all of the Republican-leaning media are concentrated under one corporation, News Corp. The other five make up the so-called “liberal media.” The largest outfit, Time Warner, controls the CNN, TBS and TNT networks, among many others. It is so big that 178 million unique users read its news content every month.

You would be forgiven for assuming that this web of networks should be an effective tool for shaping opinion, especially important during elections.

It did not exactly work that way for Hillary Clinton.

Why didn’t the liberal media help the Democratic candidate to win?

For a long time, those controlling the liberal media in the United States thought that by homogenizing the message, they could convert society. Both news and entertainment media carried a liberal message, and it seemed to be working. But it was only an illusion.

Half the country lost its trust in media.

The cornerstone of oligarchic rule is monopoly. In an oligarchy, the ruling class typically controls the vast majority of information outlets to ensure that they deliver a homogeneous message.

As liberals, we were surrounded by messages we chose to see. We effectively ignored the other side and convinced ourselves that the cultural revolution was won. We didn’t understand why someone in a rural town would not want to bake a cake for a gay wedding.

But the other side was there the whole time. Listening to the dominant media message, they felt that what they believed was irrelevant. They saw hypocrisy in the refusal of the mainstream media to accept their right to live and act according to their own beliefs, when it was so tolerant of other issues.

What happened then? Half the country lost its trust in media. Because their point of view was ignored for so long, instead of the media providing a healthy platform for discussion, “bias in media” became a common complaint. People learned to ignore most everything — both right or wrong — coming from the media. And Donald Trump won the election.

The illusion of full control over people’s minds in combination with heavy commercialization has fostered the illusion that some of the fundamentals of journalism can be ignored.

Investigative journalism is in decline, foreign correspondents are being laid off, writing for the web requires brief, simple sentences. Because the liberal media’s message is homogeneous, it leaves scope for conspiracy theories that stand in opposition to the liberal media’s reporting. The search for truth is basically over.

What is left is an oligarchic media with a one-sided, unbalanced approach and share-holder interests that undermine its responsibility to the public.

Rashad Mammadov

Rashad Mammadov is a PhD candidate at Indiana University’s Media School, with a research focus on political communication. He holds a master’s degrees in journalism and mass communication. He worked as a reporter and editor for almost a decade in newspapers and magazines covering international politics and media economics.


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