Competition as a force for media accuracy or infotainment

Limiting the number of TV stations has unusual effects on media slant and muckraking.

Tyler Cowen argues that competition by itself is not a powerful force for media accuracy.

In the traditional conception of the demand for news, audiences read, watch, and listen to the news in order to get information. The quality of news is its accuracy.

But when there are many media outlets, competition results in a common slanting of news towards reader biases in the audience niche each network are serving. The market is very good are serving up what the customer wants.

Competition forces news outlets to cater to their customer’s niche preferences.

  • Realised profit is the criterion by which the market process selects survivors: those who realise positive profits survive; those who suffer losses disappear.
  • Positive profits accrue to those news outlets who are better than their competitors. These lesser rivals will exhaust their retained earnings and fail to attract further new investor support.

On topics where reader beliefs diverge on politically divisive issues, media outlets profit from segmenting the market and slanting reports to the biases of their niche audiences.

There is less bland truth-telling and more of the polemics that each market niche wants.

This means that left-wing and right-wing media outlets will hound the political enemies of their readers to cater to the preferences of their audience niche.

The clearest illustration of infotainment is the Lewinsky affair:

  • The left wing press presented information designed to excuse Clinton’s sins; and
  • The right wing press dug out details pointing to his culpability.

When there are only a few media outlets, the networks instead go for the median viewer/reader and offer more sedate and less scandal driven coverage.

More media competition increases the chances of the muckraking that brings down ministers and governments.

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