Mass Media’s Message

A Report on the Media Reform Conference

Volume CIV, No. 1January, 2004

Jimmy Owens

When we think about the variety of newspapers, magazines, radio, television, cable and digital stations that exist, we discover the power that media ownership plays in developing our opinions and shaping our personal environment. Media, at times, presents positive educative information – but at other times, there is an abundance of negative information that is deceiving and controlling. The following is a report of the Media Reform Conference, which I attended on Nov. 7-9 at the University of Wisconsin (Madison).

In the last 30 years we have seen a dangerous trend in the United States of fewer multinational corporations owning more of the public media. Many of the major recording companies we once knew as independents are owned by the multinational corporations. For instance, the Disney Corporation owns ABC television, Viacom owns CBS, Time Warner owns Atlantic and Elektra, and Vivendi owns A&M, MCA, Def Jam and Interscope.

Notice how the multinational corporations control the music industry by what the radio and television stations promote in music. They control what we see, hear, read and – at times – what we think.

We need to be aware of how these corporations report the local, national and international news. The media system we have now seems to exist to service only the owners’ interests – not the public’s. From these few areas of media control we can see that the media must be reformed.

When we view the various bands presented as guests on Jay Leno, Saturday Night Live or David Letterman, we see the influence of the multinational-owned media. Big media is able to push the type of music and the performing artists of their choice.


Last June, the FCC ruled that one corporation could own more than one newspaper, television or radio station in the same market. History has informed us that monopoly is not best for a democratic way of life.

You may ask, “How does this effect me as a performing musician?”

We have seen mass media divorce the musical traditions of both Jazz and European classical music. (By the way, I always capitalize the term “Jazz” because I feel this great music deserves the respect of a proper name.) It is not a regular occasion for us to see great artists in the Jazz and classical traditions performing on television; it is even difficult to hear this music on the radio. Millions of people love these types of music, but the media still doesn’t provide programming on a regular basis.

The general public has no understanding of what it takes to be a performing artist. In the general print media, there isn’t any reporting on the fields of club dates, recording, live performance concerts or Broadway. This makes it more difficult when a new contract needs to be negotiated, and we need the public to support our stance. Since mass media owners are usually management, we are not going to get media coverage easily.

Print media that provides stories on musicians could aid in informing the public about that type of life and it could be more enjoyable reading than about murder, robbery, or the various scandals of the rich and famous.

Media ownership services its own wants and needs first. The media owners believe that hyper-commercialism – the sale of products and images – is more important than diverse programming. It’s about making the largest sum of money in the smallest amount of time. This has a tendency to push quality aside for quantity of sales.


At this time in the music industry, creative musicians have been freed up by not having to rely only on the various recording companies to make recordings. Artists record and distribute their own products and use the Internet to get publicity to sell their products all over the world.

However, there is still a problem with getting coverage in print media or on the airwaves of radio and television that are owned by the multinational corporations.

With media reform, perhaps we can remind the media owners and regulators of existing laws that say that the airwaves still belong to the people. We don’t need the multinational corporations giving us a government of the wealthy, by the wealthy, and for the wealthy.

Some of you may remember in 1969 when the Jazz and the People’s Movement disrupted live television shows to protest the lack of Jazz programming on shows like the Dick Cavett Show.

There were a few Jazz artists presented on major television shows for a brief time after that (the Ed Sullivan Show was one example) but then it went back to the same old stuff – no Jazz or classical music on television.


This is why media reform is important and why we need to fight big multinational media ownership:

  • Mass media’s focus on negativity, violence and trivia downplays more powerful messages and creates public apathy.
  • Health products advertised on mass media are mainly unhealthy; they are filled with sugar and addictive drugs and have enormous side effects.
  • Mass media becomes dictatorial; as corporations merge and grow they stifle competition.
  • Mass media sinks unregulated amounts of special interest money into political campaigns.
  • Multinational corporations force artists to assign their copyrights to record companies, which deprives artists of control and future income.

Media reform is slowly growing in the United States and the general public is starting to understand how multinational media ownership can deprive them of quality programming and giving them a broad outlook in the reporting of news. I truly respect Bob McChesney and John Nichols who helped move this conference forward; they are two individuals who are spearheading the grassroots public to become aware of media reform.

To obtain more information about media reform, try visiting these Web sites:,,,, and

Two good books on media reform are “Our Media, Not Theirs,” by Robert McChesney and John Nichols (, and “Media Ownership and Democracy in the Digital Information Age,” by Mark Cooper (

Jimmy Owens is a trumpeter, composer, educator, music education consultant, chairman of the Local 802 Jazz Advisory Committee, Jazz Liaison to the Executive Board and Vice President of the Jazz Foundation of America. He’s played with Duke Ellington, Max Roach, Charles Mingus and Billy Taylor. This article © 2003 Jay-Oh Productions, Inc.