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See:

How is The Real News Network funded?

In the comments there I claimed that the funding of a media outlet (assuming it's not minuscule and insignificant) is part of the political process - and thus on-topic for this site. Am I wrong?

See also:

Is the media on topic?

  • 5
    Thank you for bringing up this question. I have not yet formed an opinion about whether or not this topic is in scope, so I would be interested in what the community thinks about it. – Philipp Feb 8 '18 at 11:18
  • 1
    Perhaps you can differentiate this question from the linked meta one. I'd also spell out your reasoning for how media funding is potentially linked to politics. – user9389 Feb 8 '18 at 17:21
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    Including a small bit about why you're interested in the question will help with this. It also helps in potential answers understand the context. – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica Feb 8 '18 at 18:39
  • Generally media should not be offtopic. But non-government funding of it seems more offtopic than on. – user4012 Feb 9 '18 at 17:12
  • @user4012: How so? – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Feb 9 '18 at 17:28
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    The media has a lot of politics in it. There's also a ton of politics in the way media is managed, from the dictatorship that controls the media, to the free press democracy where the media has almost enough power to be like a branch of government. I don't understand why media should be off-topic at all, political aspects of the media are very much on topic. – userLTK Feb 16 '18 at 4:15
4

Questions about how media companies are supported is interesting from a political perspective, and should be on-topic. Large companies whose main business is not creating media that make political statements (in the form of advertisements they purchase or other) should also be fair game, but questions about non-media companies should probably be limited to asking about who their majority shareholders are (since that will likely be public information), as well as any government sources of funding they may be taking advantage of which is outside of the course of their normal business.

E.g. If Budweiser promotes a specific political cause during a Super Bowl Ad, a question asking about their majority shareholders should be on-topic, a question asking if they are supporting the cause due to some way they can make money is on-topic, a question about Budweiser's 3rd Quarter profits last year should be off-topic.

Questions about media companies' sponsors, lists of advertisers, and, in the case of some media personalities, the list of companies that have products for sale on their website should all be on-topic.

A question about government subsidies in the context of any specific company I think isn't impacted (and should be on-topic), since the question is probably more about the subsidy itself than about the company.


The question mentions the media company calls out the fact that they do not receive any government funding. I think asking about that particular source of funding for a private organization would be on-topic, such as "Why is this media company being funded by the government," or "What government program is this company taking advantage of." Both of those questions boil down to pretty much the same one: what is the policy goal or reasoning behind giving tax payer money to [some private enterprise or charitable organization].

Asking about sources of private funding of a business would be too similar to asking how the hotdog vendor down the road stays in business and not something really addressable by politics. It may also open the door to letting in any question asking about private funding for any type of organization that could, in someone's mind, be deemed 'political' (which is not much of a discriminator).

Since that company doesn't receive any government funding directly, I would argue the question is off-topic.

  • 2
    You're implying private corporations and capitalists are not centrally involved in politics. Which is wrong, i.e. they are. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Feb 9 '18 at 0:37
  • @einpoklum True enough, but so are individual voters. I'm not sure it would be on topic to analyze e.g. Nike's balance sheet even if they happen to promote ads for specific political causes. I'm not sure if funding of purely political organizations has been addressed before but I would think those types of questions are fair game, the question here is where is the line drawn. – Jeff Lambert Feb 9 '18 at 0:48
  • An additional worry I have is that a lot of the information about private organizations is private, and it may be extremely hard to find relevant, trustable information to create a good answer. – Jeff Lambert Feb 9 '18 at 0:50
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    Thank you for sharing your views. However, "It may also open the door to letting in any question asking about private funding for any type of organization " is a slippery slope argument. – Philipp Feb 9 '18 at 13:39
  • @Philipp Just trying to highlight that unless someone addresses that aspect it could be a problem, and cause similar issues in the future. – Jeff Lambert Feb 9 '18 at 13:42
  • Also, the argument may be a slippery slope, but it is not yet a fallacy. Someone can easily make it one, by proposing some appropriate discriminator to set the media company apart somehow. But without a way to say these questions are on-topic but these aren't, then questions about funding for the hot dog vendor and Nike are just as on-topic as this particular media company. – Jeff Lambert Feb 10 '18 at 10:36
  • Re "how the hotdog vendor down the road stays in business": is a political matter... there's vending licenses, commissaries, perhaps other licenses, public health inspectors, potential lawsuits from unhappy customers, possibly it's a money loser but there to launder a little money, or a front, or a lookout, it might involve petty bribes to keep it going, labor issues, immigration, to say nothing of what's in the dogs... – agc Feb 19 '18 at 3:25
  • @agc That's partly my point, anyone can make that same argument and the question about the hot dog vendor's funding to me is uninteresting (the question about getting the licenses and other requirements in different jurisdictions is different). It may help the site graduate faster if we can ask a question about how any private business operates, but I don't think it would improve the quality of content on the site. – Jeff Lambert Feb 19 '18 at 12:01
  • @JeffLambert, It's uninteresting when the funding is relatively normal. Just as the metabolism of one's elbow is uninteresting under ordinary circumstances. But if that elbow quadruples in size, or the hot dog vendor is able to decisively influence elections, both elbow and vendor become interesting. – agc Feb 19 '18 at 20:20
  • @agc I agree with your point, larger companies do have a greater effect, and could be the discriminator I'm looking for. When Budweiser (or some other large company) starts buying political ads during the Super Bowl, do we start asking questions about their accounting records? Or should we restrict questions to looking at political donations they make, or government subsidies they may take advantage of? – Jeff Lambert Feb 19 '18 at 20:28
  • @JeffLambert, Not if the ads are just for beer, as that's normal for beer companies. But if the ads show a candidate hoisting a beer... For media outlets, the press, the fourth estate -- funding often reveals shameless political conflicts of interest. Put another way, it's normal for an oil company to advertise oil, and it's also normal for an old trade magazine to focus on oil interests, but it's abnormal for a general newspaper to be an oil trade magazine in disguise, or anything else in disguise -- disguise in the media is political manipulation. – agc Feb 20 '18 at 12:28
  • @agc Just to summarize your position, we should allow questions about media companies and specifically media companies' financial backing, and larger companies that (may) generate media with a political message, perhaps as a question like "who are the majority stockholders?" – Jeff Lambert Feb 20 '18 at 12:48
  • @JeffLambert, Yes. (Note that it's not always direct top-down manipulation; something as seemingly innocuous as servile hiring practices may evolve bottom-up careerists who court owners' smiles by various owner-friendly habitual omissions and colorings, and stonewall wherever possible the more sincere efforts of any less servile peers.) – agc Feb 20 '18 at 13:13
  • @agc Ok you convinced me. I changed my answer. – Jeff Lambert Feb 21 '18 at 16:30
3

The political process includes public self-reflection, and the formation of public opinion on political matters. That means that mass media - to the extent it is part of this process, i.e. at least to the extent it influences public opinion on political matters.

Now, the funding of the media is relevant even as an aspect of the relevance of media overall. But additionally, funding and de-funding of media outlets is a political move or stance - by governments, by private corporations, by NGOs which are fronts for the above, or by actual large groups of interested individuals. When this is done, the media landscape is affected, public opinion is affected, and actual political decisions are affected.

So it's interesting and relevant to discuss how, say, Rupert Murdoch controls Fox which props up part of the US right-wing; or how Sheldon Adelson supports Netanyahu by bankrolling the "Israel Hayom" daily. And it's also interesting and relevant to ask "Who funds this media outlet".

2

The private organization's decision not to receive government funding seems to be to be the exact opposite of a matter of public policy. There is no public political process that determines a private organization's choice of whether or not to apply for available government funding (at least for the vast majority). I do not believe a satisfactory answer to the question will lead any user to a better understanding of any political subject, which seems to me like a basic requirement for a question to be on-topic.

I think there are multiple on-topic questions around the subject of the question. For example, while I do not see them making the claim explicitly on their site, the site appears to be making the implicit claim that being sponsored only by viewers means they will be less biased toward the government or corporations. A question about how their biases differ from traditionally sponsored media would seem to me to be on-topic, since the bias of news media has a substantial impact on the public's perception of and interaction with politics.

On the other hand, if your question is really whether they are telling the truth that they only receive funding from viewers and not from corporations/governments, you should ask on Skeptics.

  • This question is not about government funding. Also, a media organzation's decisions about funding are just part of the issue; another part is the funding entities - large corporations, governments, even sections of the public at large - to fund. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Feb 10 '18 at 19:31
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    @einpoklum I'd still point you at Skeptics. The RNN makes a simple claim that they are funded entirely by their viewers - if you are skeptical of that claim's veracity, that is a Skeptics question, not a Politics question. – IllusiveBrian Feb 10 '18 at 19:50
  • When I asked the question at least, I did not see that simple claim. Actually, I haven't seen it to this point... – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Feb 10 '18 at 20:04
  • @einpoklum therealnews.com/t2/about-us/mission "The Real News Network (TRNN) is a non-profit, viewer-supported daily video-news and documentary service. We don’t accept advertising, and we don’t accept government or corporate funding. TRNN is sustained by viewer donations and earned revenue." – IllusiveBrian Feb 10 '18 at 20:15
  • That does not say they are funded exclusively by their viewers: 1. "sustained by" != "exclusively funded by" 2. "earned revenue" - revenue can be earned in all sorts of ways, and unless it's, say, merchandise, this would probably mean non-viewer funding. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Feb 10 '18 at 20:43
  • @einpoklum I'll concede that my comment is not a complete answer to your question. Their non-political sources of funding are still not a political issue though. Your question as-is might be on-topic on Economics SE, but I'm not 100% sure based on their help center. – IllusiveBrian Feb 10 '18 at 21:46
  • Re "bias": is the least of it, there's also journalistic incompetency, triviality, distraction, propaganda, and deception. Suppose the fact of a politically agnostic media funder, with no general political bias as such, ruthlessly employing his media as dis-informative weapons to further his short term business interests as needed. Without public knowledge of this funder's character, its audience is made unwitting accomplices in those schemes. – agc Feb 19 '18 at 5:03

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