Monday, August 3, 2009

General Electric and News Corporation Censor Their News Divisions

One of the most disturbing stories that came out over the weekend was this story in The New York Times:

For years Keith Olbermann of MSNBC had savaged his prime-time nemesis Bill O’Reilly of the Fox News Channel and accused Fox of journalistic malpractice almost nightly. Mr. O’Reilly in turn criticized Mr. Olbermann’s bosses and led an exceptional campaign against General Electric, the parent company of MSNBC.


At an off-the-record summit meeting for chief executives sponsored by Microsoft in mid-May, the PBS interviewer Charlie Rose asked Jeffrey Immelt, chairman of G.E., and his counterpart at the News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, about the feud.

Both moguls expressed regret over the venomous culture between the networks and the increasingly personal nature of the barbs. Days later, even though the feud had increased the audience of both programs, their lieutenants arranged a cease-fire, according to four people who work at the companies and have direct knowledge of the deal.

Yes, you read that correctly, the parent companies of NBC and Fox (General Electric and News Corporation respectively) negotiated a cease-fire between two of their commentators which has resulted in Keith Olbermann ceasing to attack Fox host Bill O'Reilly and O'Reilly backing off of his criticism of General Electric Chairman, Jeffrey Immelt. Why did executives of these parent companies feel that these actions were appropriate? (emphasis mine):

“It was time to grow up,” a senior employee of one of the companies said.

The reconciliation — not acknowledged by the parties until now — showcased how a personal and commercial battle between two men could create real consequences for their parent corporations. A G.E. shareholders’ meeting, for instance, was overrun by critics of MSNBC (and one of Mr. O’Reilly’s producers) last April.

“We all recognize that a certain level of civility needed to be introduced into the public discussion,” Gary Sheffer, a spokesman for G.E., said this week. “We’re happy that has happened.”

In other words, the decisions by the hosts of these programs were negatively effecting the business interests of the parent corporations. General Electric and News Corporation then decided that it would be a good business maneuver to exercise control over their news divisions by dictating what kind of coverage is off-limits. Can there be a more explicit example of how media consolidation and the corporate control of newsrooms has a negative effect on free speech and journalistic independence? It is for this very reason that I often use the phrase "stenographers to power" in describing the so-called "mainstream" media.

Glenn Greenwald has his usual insightful analysis:

Does anyone need it explained to them why it is so dangerous and destructive to have our political debates controlled by GE executives, sitting in their offices censoring the journalism of our leading media outlets in the name of "civility," code for: you will respect those who can harm us? Our entire political culture is already designed to ensure corporate control of our political institutions. Their lobbyists literally write the laws enacted by Congress and control their implementation. The reason the journalism industry insisted for so long on the ludicrous fiction that corporate parents never violated the sanctity of journalistic independence is precisely because everyone understood why that would be so dangerous. Apparently, they no longer feel a need to maintain that fiction.

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