Media Don't Bite the Ruling That Feeds Them

Originally published by Extra!, the monthly magazine for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.

Citizens United fills airwaves—and corporate coffers

By Michael Corcoran and Stephen Maher

The 2010 midterm elections were the first since the Supreme Court's 5-4 Citizens United decision allowed unlimited corporate funding of political broadcasts in elections. As was widely predicted at the time, spending hit unprecedented highs this election cycle, including record sums on television ads. In the words of the Associated Press (10/29/10), Citizens essentially constituted a “stimulus package” for broadcast and cable media corporations, which saw major increases in revenue, thus benefiting from the ever-deepening relationship between money and politics.

In fact, media corporations raked in a record $3 billion this mid-term election cycle, not only breaking the previous mid-term spending record of $2.4 billion in 2006, but also surpassing the $2.7 billion spent in the 2008 presidential election cycle (
AP, 10/29/10). Much of this windfall can be attributed directly to the Citizens decision, according to a report from the media tracking group SNL Kagan, which described the 2010 election climate as “a political ad revenue treasure trove for broadcasters" (Hill, 9/22/10).

CBS, according to AP (11/4/10), “pounced on an advertising revival in the broadcast media to produce a 53 percent increase in its third-quarter net income"; other media companies likewise “reported robust ad gains.” Media giant Time Warner--owner of cable channels like CNN, TNT and TBS--saw profits rise by more than one-third in the quarter, in part due to a 23 percent increase in ad revenue (CNET, 11/4/10).

Local stations likewise have their snouts in the trough. Political ads are expected to account for 11 percent of the total revenue for local broadcasters this year, up from 7 percent in 2006 (AP, 10/29/10). In Boston, where a 30-second election spot costs about $25,000, demand for ads was so high that local channels were actually turning them down. “There are not enough commercial breaks and too many advertisers. It’s been absolutely crazy,” said Andy Hoffman, a sales manager for Channel 5 in Boston (Boston Globe, 10/30/10).

Media companies not only benefit from ads, but also now have the ability to donate as much money as they want to politicians' campaigns. This new leverage will enable media corporations to fight for issues that impact their bottom line, such as relaxing telecommunications regulations and fighting against net neutrality to ensure them a competitive advantage over smaller, independent news sites.

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