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Does corporate control in the media influence what news we hear?

by on October 28, 2013

I recently learned about a controversial case in a Communication class I’m taking which calls into question the effects of corporate sponsorship in the media. Last week, our class watched a film titled “Shadows of Liberty.” Part of the film talked about how in 1996, CBS news reporter Roberta Baskin broke a story on the investigative show “48 Hours” about the abusive practices at Nike factories in Vietnam.

Then, in 1998, Nike became a sponsor for CBS’ coverage of the Winter Olympics. As part of the deal, correspondents at the games were required to wear jackets with a large Nike “swoosh” on the front. Baskin, angry at the network’s decision, sent a memo to CBS executives saying that she was “dismayed and embarrassed” about the jackets, and accused CBS News President Andrew Heyward of deliberately deciding against a rebroadcast of the Nike factory report because of the partnership. Furthermore, Baskin said that the network told her she was not allowed to do a follow-up report on factory conditions.

Although Heyward denied any connection between Nike’s sponsorship and the decisions regarding Baskin’s reports, it does call into question the ethics of such deals. If CBS had decided to continue with the investigations in Vietnam, would Nike have pulled out of its sponsorship of the Olympic games? It certainly seems possible.

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One Comment
  1. This is a really interesting example of an issue that’s probably only gotten much worse since 1998.

    With fewer and fewer companies owning the majority of media channels, organizations have more power on what to cover based on their own self-interest. Not only that, but companies like Comcast now own many different components of the media process, from equipment to entire networks. This type of corporate control through diverse ownership can’t be good for honest media and transparency. If CBS was stopped scrutinizing Nike in 1998 because of a sponsorship deal, I can only imagine how complicated this issue is 15 years later.

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