On October 22, telecommunications giant AT&T announced its plan to buy Time Warner, which owns CNN, HBO, TBS and TNT. The $85.4 billion merger, one of the largest ever made, would make AT&T both a distributor of internet service and a content provider. Many progressive organizations and leaders are outraged and organizing to stop the mega-deal.
Over the past few decades, control of the U.S. media has been concentrating into the hands of a few corporations. In 1983, 50 corporations owned 90 percent of the U.S. media. Today only six corporations control 90 percent of what we watch for news and entertainment. These corporations, whose priority is to make profit and whose loyalty is to their big shareholders, control most of the information consumed by hundreds of millions of Americans.
These large media conglomerates work closely with the U.S. government to promote policies and viewpoints that benefit them and the rest of the elite at the expense of working and oppressed people. They report the dominant narrative and are among the top donors to Republican and Democratic political campaigns. In return, they are further deregulated and have access to powerful politicians.
In the past year, the mainstream media has virtually ignored the Bernie Sanders campaign, the Indigenous-led movement against construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the existence and legitimacy of third party candidates in the presidential race, all of which pose a threat to the domination of corporations and the ruling class. These media white-outs and distortions shape public opinion and determine the outcomes of elections.
Net neutrality in danger
The merger of AT&T and Time Warner is part of a new phase of media consolidation in which internet service providers are buying out content providers. Similar deals were made between Comcast and NBC, and Verizon and AOL. These types of mergers present a unique danger: it becomes profitable for distributors to prioritize access to the content that they own over other content on the internet. This compromises net neutrality, or the ability for internet users to access any content on the internet without specific sources or websites being favored.
The internet has been a way for people to overcome the domination of mainstream media and challenge the dominant narrative, and net neutrality is integral to preserving that. AT&T and other internet service providers like Verizon, Comcast and T-Mobile have a long track record of lobbying against net neutrality.
AT&T is a corporate member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization that creates model legislation to “advance free market enterprise.” ALEC has created legislation that disenfranchises voters, blocks the growth of renewable energy and stifles the ability for women to get abortions, among other things. Through their membership in ALEC, T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast often successfully push for the removal of all regulations, obligations and oversight on their activity. This means the removal of regulations on quality of service, customer protections and net neutrality.
A threat to workers and privacy
Along with fighting against net neutrality, AT&T also has a track record of selling metadata about their customers to the National Security Agency. This was confirmed by AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein and later by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Through a program called “Project Hemisphere,” AT&T sells intricate data sets about their customers – including what they watch, where they go and with whom they speak – to law enforcement, at a large fee and with no subpoena. The merger of AT&T and Time Warner into a media behemoth will only increase this invasion of privacy.
The merger also comes at the expense of workers. In the process of absorbing Time Warner, AT&T will incur $170 billion of debt. The only way to service that debt is to lay off workers and charge their customers more for services. Meanwhile, AT&T promises that the merger will improve their dividend coverage of $12 billion a year to their shareholders, one of the highest dividend values, only surpassed by Exxon Mobile and Microsoft. At the same time, CEO of Time Warner Jeffrey Bukes will walk away with a $400 million severance package. The wealthy benefit, while workers continue to suffer from unemployment, low wages and the increasingly high cost of internet service.
The media is not the only industry that has a tendency towards monopoly. Power over every industry is being further concentrated into the hands of a few corporations. In the capitalist system companies will always operate in such a way as to reap the most profits. Competition between multiple companies in the same industry drives prices down and reduces profit, while combining companies into large corporations that dominate entire industries eliminates competition and increases profit. The larger these corporate entities get, the more they are able to control prices, exploit workers and exercise political power.
If the trend toward monopoly in the media continues, and history suggests that it will, our ability to communicate and share information and our access to independent media will be further threatened. We must fight for a system in which media and other necessities are not produced for profit, but to serve the needs of the people. The alternative is the continued dominance of a few hundred people over every aspect of our lives, including our thoughts, opinions and interpretations of reality.