The Media, Money and The First Amendment
One of the greatest aspects of democracy is the freedom of diverse thought and speech (intellectual Property). The Media is the best way of ensuring that and these aspects of democracy survive. The media is everywhere nowadays, on our phones, our TV’s and every-time we go out of the house we are confronted by the message of media. It’s no wonder then that media is the largest industry in the world, and only growing bigger.
As media grows so do certain sectors within its scope: namely business. This growth is not necessarily bad but in the world of business, money can impact and curtail how companies operate and distribute ideas with each other and their customers, the public. Money can severely impact business speech and the actions of business toward customers.
Companies can change the speech of other companies and its customers through many different avenues. One such avenue is the merger of businesses. Mergers are implemented through horizontal mergers and vertical mergers. Horizontal Mergers occur when two competing companies in the same or similar industries merge, (i.e. T-Mobile/Sprint Merger deal). Vertical Mergers occur when two non-competing companies in different industries merge ( i.e. AT&T/Time Warner Merger deal). Mergers change the speech of companies and its customers by limiting or destroying the amount of diverse choices of a certain industry, by either having the new parent company change its overall political climate, (changing the views from liberal to conservative or vice versa) or by absorbing the company entirely and liquidating it. (i.e. Digital first Media absorbing a majority of local news agencies to liquidate parts of them for other investments).
Another way that businesses can curtail or impact democratic speech is to do so through the stock exchange. A company must keep their investors happy and the stock prices of a company’s public shares and companies are one of the ways corporations can keep stock investors (share owners) happy. This happiness can alter or eliminate a company’s speech or its users. If a stock price tanks because users leave due to “Hate Groups” or bad actors having a large use in a company’s products, (i.e Twitter), the company will usually try to change it’s product or company’s policies on speech, dramatically in order to try to raise stock prices, and to try to bring back old users. Stock prices reflect the healthiness of a company, as well as how the world or market views that company.
Another way a company can change speech is by poaching a company’s tanking stock. When they poach a tanking stock, it leaves the sinking company open to a takeover (an acquisition) This occurs where the poaching company buys most or majority of the company’s tanking stock which could cripple or destroy a unpopular company. The poaching company becomes the new majority shareholder and now owns the company. This can occur through a change in company image or speech.
In business there are two types of businesses Private and Public, a Private business means that the business is privately owned by usually a small unknown amount of private shareholders, and the public has no ability to buy private shares; thus the public has no say in the company’s actions. A Public business means that parts (shares or stocks) are publicly available on the stock market for any U.S. Citizen (if it is a U.S. Market or a market that is open to a multitude of nationalities) to buy shares, of any company he or she wants. The public, though the purchase of shares is given a say in that said company’s actions or policies; thus the individual has say in the speech of the company, or if it is a social media platform or a media company could have say in the speech of its users and Subscribers.
One the biggest example of companies crushing first amendment outlets to keep shareholders happy, is Digital First Media. (who owns the East Bay Times, Denver post and many more newspapers) Digital First Media (DFM) has been making many cutbacks in their media outlets syphoning as much as they can to make profit, for their parent company’s private shareholders (Alden Holding Capital) while still keeping the newspapers legitimate companies.
When Alden Capital has DFM make cutbacks and liquidating it gives their shareholder more money as well as making the sale price of the newspaper higher, if the price of the paper goes up from the acquisition of the paper, the liquidation of assets bumps up the private equity value. So, if Alden wants DFM to sell a paper then the sale price will make them a good profit. Many journalists have spoke out about DFM’s terrible and negligent business practices, and DFM’s response is to just fire anyone who disagrees with their decisions. I.e. fmr Denver Post editor Chuck Plunkett was fired after he wrote an article condemning the sickly poor management for the sake of profit. Now making a profit isn’t necessarily a bad thing as John D Rockefeller said “The growth of a large company is merely a survival of the fittest” because all media outlets need to make a profit, because all media outlets are also businesses that have to be successful to survive. The media and major news outlets are all owned by large Companies and conglomerates that need the media outlets to be profitable, some of the biggest media outlets are bigger than we think like, Fox news is own by 21st century fox (FOX), CNN is owned by Time Warner (TWX) and NBC is owned By Comcast (CMCA). And more interesting enough, as i mentioned above these companies might get even bigger because of mergers; which is going to make them a big profit. But this kind of profit isn’t good, when a business merges or makes a profit without a regard for the media outlet is bad. It lowers the quality and respect of the news outlet. Most of them are in form of mergers.
The Two largest and most important mergers is the AT&T-Time Warner and the bidding war for 21st century fox, both Disney and Comcast have made bids for the Movie, TV, and Sports assets the Fox Media empire, Disney offered $50 million in an all stock deal, while as Comcast offered the Media empire $60 billion in a all cash deal.
So Why are media giants trying to make a push for a large profit in the form of mergers? Well there are a multitude of things, Direct to consumers products (DTC) are shifting from cable connections because of Netflix , falling stock prices, and terrible viewership ratings. A direct to consumer product like Netflix, in other words pay a TV online streaming service, they have shifted the market for a demand for “cord cutting” (cutting away from traditional cable and TV systems to streaming service) this phenomenon affects both Disney and Comcast. Another thing that is causing the bid war is Comcast’s falling stock prices. As I mentioned above, the stock price indicates the overall health of the company, if it makes enough in earnings, how many people quit in management and how are the operations. This is purely a Comcast issue, due to mostly terrible revenue outcomes. A majority of last years Comcast revenue came from their NBC networks coverage of the super bowl and the winter olympics. And for this reason Comcast is disparate for the IP (Intellectual property) wealth of Fox’s assets. If they acquire these assets, it would be more likely for Comcast to compete in the newly convergening Telecom/Media industry; if or when the telecom and content creators shift into one entity where content and distribution is beginning to come from the same company; (due to the streaming boom of smartphones, tablets and other mobile services), democratic speech will be severely narrowed.
What does this have to do with speech? It has everything to do with speech. Not only is Comcast’s life blood at risk, so is the growth and preservation of diverse content (speech) not just diverse content culturally but diverse content in vulgarity and other perceived views. If Disney acquires Fox, then they will own FX; so shows like Atlanta, Archer, Taboo, and Always Sunny in Philadelphia, might get the “Disney effect.” What is the Disney effect? Well, the family friendly brand viewpoint of Disney will control content. Those shows would possibly be a cleaned up version of themselves, no more sex, vulgar words or fucked up humor. Disney has done this with some of the Marvel Series and the new Star Wars films. Both series were very adult to young adult oriented and now they have just become shallow, flashy and not very cohesive sequels to the films before them. The media approach is going for what gets the biggest audience rather than producing a true series’ counterpart. If Disney wins, then so does the possible destruction of edgy content and other varieties of viewpoint and speech, as well as the transformation of the Telecom market from an oligopoly market into a monopoly market. This will happen because the IP and asset wealth of Fox will become one of the largest media companies in the world, and the king of media. A monarchy of media is bad, and as senator and economist John Sherman (who founded the “Sherman Act”) said “if we will not endure a king as a political power then we shall not endure a king over the production, distribution and transportation or sale of any of the necessities of life” this includes media — like TV, shows movies and more. Yes, the Disney buyout takeover of Fox would make the media world would be one step closer to a monopoly on Entertainment and the speech that comes with it.
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Disclaimer: As describe in the article’s title, this is an ‘Opinion piece’ from the author and the view expressed in the article are speculative and could change at any moment.