Friday, October 02, 2015

why the negro/black digest had to go, and why black media is no mo....,

paecon |  Almost everyone recognizes that the media plays a crucial role in real democracies. One must examine the media to understand its role in how democracies work, including how it both enhances and detracts from how well any democratic society works. Amartya Sen recognizes this basic truth in the realms of capabilities, functionings, economics, and freedom. However, there is a tension between this recognition and the fact that Sen does not deeply develop the structural and institutional aspects of the role of the media and of democratic society.

In many of his works, Amartya Sen has correctly pointed out the links that exist between many kinds of freedom. One of the most important is the connection between democratic participation, political freedom, and the structure of the media. This is important because Sen argues that direct or representative democracy prevents catastrophic famine. (Sen 1999, 2009) He has also forcefully argued that political participation is important in its own right.

In order to reap the full benefits of democracy, Sen has argued that it is crucial have a free press that allows for the free flow of ideas. The free press helps a society decide which policies to pursue, since these discussions lead to the direct consideration of the goals that society thinks are worthwhile. These discussions also shape a society, because they inform citizens how it might be best to pursue goals that are already settled on. On this point, I agree with Sen.

However, there is a problem. Authors like Robert McChesney have argued that the ownership structure of media companies limits debate over economic and political policy. In the U.S., the primary concern seems to be the potential for corporate censorship, while in other parts of the world the main problem appears to be government censorship.

For the U.S., the argument goes like this. Media companies such as Disney, Fox, and Turner have direct economic interests. Large media companies are large corporations, and they sell advertising to other large corporations. Management of these large corporations has the responsibility to run the firms as profitably as they can. This is both a competitive requirement, and in some ways a legal one. One could argue that these firms have to please two masters, their shareholders and their audience. Management is often legally bound to serve shareholders first in case of a conflict between shareholder interests and other competing interests, such as those of employees or the audience. The corporate structure of these firms gives them an economic incentive to consider the financial consequences to the corporation of any particular story, regardless of its truth or potential social importance even if they maintain a strict separation between the news division and other divisions. Important aspects of any debate over social, political, and economic policy may be sidestepped because of corporate organization and the accompanying incentives. For example, Stromberg (2004) developed a model that describes the links between the mass media, political competition, and the resulting public policy. The emergence of the mass media “may introduce a bias in favor of groups that are valuable to advertisers, which might introduce a bias against the poor and the old.” (Stromberg 2004, 281)