NOT The News |
(Read Before Class)
PHIL1301 & INFO1371 w/ Colby Glass
|Here is a sampling of what is NOT being covered by the major media. These stories come from my Alternate News Sources. I may not cover YOUR areas of interest, so I recommend that you go to the alternate news sources and find your concerns.|
"Why should we care? Because, according to some critics, these global media giants are sacrificing journalistic quality and ethics on the altar of shareholder returns. MBAs with no experience in---and little love for---journalism are downsizing news divisions and upping the fluff-to-fiber ratio in order to boost profits.
"Ominously, some corporate parents are meddling in the newsroom, slipping product placement into news shows and censoring investigative reports that bite the hand that feeds. In the name of greater market share, they're fencing out diverse or dissenting voices, creating a bland media monoculture. They're privatizing the airwaves, blockading our right-of-way to the public sphere.
"Most worrisome, some critics say, is the bottom-line agenda of global corporate media: profoundly anti-democratic, dedicated to advancing the interests of the power élite and keeping the rabble entertained and docile. Media moguls and the powers they serve want happy shoppers, not freethinking citizens, the argument goes.
"The global media system is now dominated by a first tier of nine giant firms. The five largest are Time Warner (1997 sales: $24 billion), Disney ($22 billion), Bertelsmann ($15 billion), Viacom ($13 billion), and Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation ($11 billion). Besides needing global scope to compete, the rules of thumb for global media giants are twofold: First, get bigger so you dominate markets and your competition can't buy you out. Firms like Disney and Time Warner have almost tripled in size this decade...
"In short, the overwhelming majority (in revenue terms) of the world's film production, TV show production, cable channel ownership, cable and satellite system ownership, book publishing, magazine publishing and music production is provided by these 50 or so firms, and the first nine firms thoroughly dominate many of these sectors. By any standard of democracy, such a concentration of media power is troubling, if not unacceptable.
"But that hardly explains how concentrated and uncompetitive this global media power actually is. In addition, these firms are all actively engaged in equity joint ventures where they share ownership of concerns with their "competitors" so as to reduce competition and risk. Each of the nine first-tier media giants, for example, has joint ventures with, on average, two-thirds of the other eight first-tier media giants...
"...the system has minimal interest in journalism or public affairs except for that which serves the business and upper-middle classes, and it privileges just a few lucrative genres that it can do quite well--like sports, light entertainment and action movies--over other fare. Even at its best the entire system is saturated by a hyper-commercialism, a veritable commercial carpetbombing of every aspect of human life. As the C.E.O. of Westinghouse put it (Advertising Age, 2/3/97), "We are here to serve advertisers. That is our raison d'etre."
"Some once posited that the rise of the Internet would eliminate the monopoly power of the global media giants. Such talk has declined recently as the largest media, telecommunication and computer firms have done everything within their immense powers to colonize the Internet, or at least neutralize its threat. The global media cartel may be evolving into a global communication cartel.
"What is tragic is that this entire process of global media concentration has taken place with little public debate, especially in the U.S., despite the clear implications for politics and culture. After World War II, the Allies restricted media concentration in occupied Germany and Japan because they noted that such concentration promoted anti-democratic, even fascist, political cultures. It may be time for the United States and everyone else to take a dose of that medicine. But for that to happen will require concerted effort to educate and organize people around media issues. That is the task before us.
"... parts of the law have drawn fire from independent analysts. For example, it removed all limitations on the number of radio stations one company can own nationally, and allowed up to eight per company locally (instead of only four); relaxed the rules about how many TV stations one company can operate; ordered the FCC to consider easing the rule limiting ownership to one TV station per market, as well as the bar to ownership of a newspaper and a broadcast outlet in the same city; permitted common ownership of cable systems and broadcast networks; ended all rate regulation of smaller cable TV systems and promised the same for large ones later on; extended the license term of TV and radio stations to eight years from four; allowed TV networks to start and own another broadcast network if they choose; required that all TV sets come equipped with a V-chip to help screen out violent and sexually explicit shows; imposed prison terms and fines on anybody who transmits pornography over the Internet.
" But far and away the splashiest effect of the new law during the last year has been the historic, unprecedented torrent of mergers, consolidations, buyouts, partnerships , and joint ventures that has changed the face of Big Media in America...
"Virtually all the coverage of this unprecedented deluge of consolidations appeared on the business pages of newspapers (if it appeared at all) and on cable channels (CNBC, CNNFN) devoted to business news, and thus flew under the radar of most Americans -- even though collectively the deals have a prodigious impact on most people's lives and change irrevocably the very shape and texture of the nation's media. While the new law was making its way through Congress to the president's desk, the word "competition," like a Tibetan mantra, was a thunderous accompaniment to the negotiations. President Clinton threatened to veto it because, he insisted, instead of promoting "competition it promotes mergers and concentrations of power." Congress tweaked the bill to get his OK, but it's still the most potent instrument in legislative history for promoting megamergers and consolidations, and for fostering giantism in media companies by relaxing ownership rules and hauling down barriers to inter-industry matrimony.
"And the implications for journalism: how much news will be suppressed and self-censored by news executives and reporters reluctant to invoke the wrath (or even the raised eyebrow) of their corporate overseers who don't want eager-beaver newspeople mucking around in the dealings of the parent companies? Would CBS News give full play to any malfeasance by Westinghouse in a disaster at the power-generation plant in Shanghai, China, where Westinghouse owns a $100 million, 35 percent interest? It's doubtful, since the Chinese government is famously sensitive to criticism. In August NBC abjectly apologized to China after sportscaster Bob Costas in his on- air commentary at the Olympics referred to "problems with human rights, property rights . . . and the threat posed to Taiwan," as well as to the well-documented use by Chinese athletes of performance-enhancing drugs. NBC parent GE, one needs to know, has huge investments in China (lighting, hospital equipment, plastics), and NBC operates a pair of satellite channs (NBC Asia and CNBC Asia) which aspire to serve the whole Chinese mainland; and GE has an agreement with China Telecom to build a data transmission network. "We didn't intend to hurt their feelings," an NBC vice president explained meekly, in justifying the apology. One trade journal wondered: since when does a network have to apologize for reporting the truth? The answer: ever since news departments have become smaller and smaller potatoes in an ever larger mulligan stew of corporate expansionism. In late November, China threatened to ax all of the Disney company's massive business interests in China if it went ahead with plans to distribute a Martin Scorsese movie about Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Disney sells toys, clothing, and other Disneyana in China, and exhibits films such as Toy Story and Jumanji. "If Disney distributes [the movie called Kundun], China won't be happy and that means Disney's business in China will be terminated," warned an official in Beijing. "It's very serious." Disn, to its credit, decided that it would indeed distribute the film. But we may confidently predict that neither ABC, CBS, NBC, nor Fox -- nor any cable network connected with them -- will ever broadcast a tough documentary on China's brutal treatment of Tibet or its ruthless suppression of the Tiananmen Square democracy movement or its sale of nuclear materials to rogue nations or its expected crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong when it assumes control there on July 1. " But of all the provisions of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the one that seemed most promising for consumers at the outset is now the one most in tatters. At the very core of the act was the so-called "two-wire world": no longer would cable TV and regional telephone companies have monopolies, respectively, on video service and local phone service into the home. In a gesture of thrilling aggiornamento, the act allowed cable to supply phone service and phone companies to deliver cable programs -- so that the resulting hot competition nationwide would drive down the prices of both. But -- except for test runs in places like Dover Township, New Jersey, and Alexandria, Virginia -- no such boon to consumers is visible anywhere on the horizon. In fact, astonishingly, it never was on the horizon, according to a Clinton administration official who spoke to CJR on condition of anonymity:
""One of the real dilemmas we had while this act was being debated was: 'At what point do we admit that the notion of cable and telephony attacking each other's markets is bullshit?' We knew, because we study these things, that this was a lie. It wasn't going to happen. The costs on both sides, and the technological hurdles, are too high. Oh, maybe twenty years from now, but probably not even then. This bill was supposed to promote competition now, not twenty years from now. My point to you is that everybody in Washington so badly wanted this to happen that they didn't ask the cable and phone companies: 'How much is this going to cost you? How do you plan to finance the crushing costs? How will you conduct a business about which you now know nothing?'" That was the big story that never got written, the source insists. "Everybody missed it. I never saw an article that said categorically, 'This bill is based on a two-wire world and it's not going to happen.' In fact, it was supposed to bring more competition, l prices, and more services. But so far we've seen more consolidation, higher prices, and no new services."
The realm of media is on the brink of a profound transformation. Whereas previously media systems were primarily national, in the past few years a global commercial-media market has emerged. "What you are seeing," says Christopher Dixon, media analyst for the investment firm PaineWebber, "is the creation of a global oligopoly. It happened to the oil and automotive industries earlier this century; now it is happening to the entertainment industry." ..
"The global media system is fundamentally noncompetitive in any meaningful economic sense of the term. Many of the largest media firms have some of the same major shareholders, own pieces of one another or have interlocking boards of directors. When Variety compiled its list of the fifty largest global media firms for 1997, it observed that "merger mania" and cross-ownership had "resulted in a complex web of interrelationships" that will "make you dizzy." The global market strongly encourages corporations to establish equity joint ventures in which the media giants all own a part of an enterprise. This way, firms reduce competition and risk and increase the chance of profitability. As the CEO of Sogecable, Spain's largest media firm and one of the twelve largest private media companies in Europe, expressed it to Variety, the strategy is "not to compete with international companies but to join them." In some respects, the global media market more closely resembles a cartel than it does the competitive marketplace found in economics textbooks...
"With hypercommercialism and growing corporate control comes an implicit political bias in media content. Consumerism, class inequality and individualism tend to be taken as natural and even benevolent, whereas political activity, civic values and antimarket activities are marginalized. The best journalism is pitched to the business class and suited to its needs and prejudices; with a few notable exceptions, the journalism reserved for the masses tends to be the sort of drivel provided by the media giants on their US television stations. This slant is often quite subtle. Indeed, the genius of the commercial-media system is the general lack of overt censorship. As George Orwell noted in his unpublished introduction to Animal Farm, censorship in free societies is infinitely more sophisticated and thorough than in dictatorships, because "unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without any need for an official ban."
"Lacking any necessarily conspiratorial intent and acting in their own economic self-interest, media conglomerates exist simply to make money by selling light escapist entertainment. In the words of the late Emilio Azcarraga, the billionaire head of Mexico's Televisa: "Mexico is a country of a modest, very fucked class, which will never stop being fucked. Television has the obligation to bring diversion to these people and remove them from their sad reality and difficult future."
"It may seem difficult to see much hope for change. As one Swedish journalist noted in 1997, "Unfortunately, the trends are very clear, moving in the wrong direction on virtually every score, and there is a desperate lack of public discussion of the long-term implications of current developments for democracy and accountability." But there are indications that progressive political movements around the world are increasingly making media issues part of their political platforms. From Sweden, France and India to Australia, New Zealand and Canada, democratic left political parties are making structural media reform--breaking up the big companies, recharging nonprofit and noncommercial broadcasting and media--central to their agenda. They are finding out that this is a successful issue with voters.
"... One component of the sweeping Telecommunications Act of 1996 set aside a huge, valuable segment of the nation's airwaves for new digital television services. Rather than auction off this part of the spectrum—which was valued at up to $70 billion—and allow the government to use that money for all kinds of social good, broadcasters lobbied long and hard to get the new frequencies free of charge, promising that they would use the bands to broadcast higher-definition programs with digital signals.
"With all the makings of a great news story about corporations depriving ordinary taxpayers of this bonanza, why were so few Americans even aware of this issue? Republican John McCain put it bluntly on the floor of the Senate: "You will not see this story on any television or hear it on any radio broadcast because it directly affects them."
"McCain was on to something. During the nine-month period from when the bill was introduced, in May 1995, to its passage, on February 1, 1996, news shows on the three major networks spent a total of 19 1/2 minutes on the Telecommunications Act, according to a study conducted by Dean Alger for his 1998 book, Megamedia. Virtually none of that time dealt with the spectrum issue.
"One of the arguments made by the broadcasters to win the rights to the spectrum was that their commitment to serve the public interest justified the giveaway, according to E. Joshua Rosenkranz, president of NYU's Brennan Center. "No sooner had [they gotten the spectrum] than they fight tooth and nail against that obligation," he says. The broadcasters went on to defeat a provision in the telecommunications bill that would have called for some free airtime for political candidates. Again, there was scant coverage of the issue on television.
"And if you think the print media would have risen to the occasion, think again. Many of them either own television stations—The New York Times Company owns eight, for example—or are part of a corporation with broadcasting interests. A study cited in Alger's book found that "among newspapers that editorialized on the subject, every one whose owners got little TV revenue editorialized against the spectrum giveaway, whereas every one with high TV revenues editorialized in favor...." (The Times, it should be noted, editorialized against.)
"...the sway of the four giant corporations that control the major TV news divisions: NBC, ABC, CBS and -- if the Feds allow it -- CNN. Two of these four corporations are defense contractors (both involved in nuclear production), while the other two are mammoth manufacturers of fun 'n' games. Thus we are the subjects of a national entertainment state, in which the news and much of our amusement come to us directly from the two most powerful industries in the United States.
"...suggest the true causes of those enormous ills that now dismay so many Americans: the universal sleaze and "dumbing down," the flood-tide of corporate propaganda, the terminal inanity of U.S. politics. These have arisen not from any grand decline in national character, nor from the plotting of some Hebrew cabal but from the inevitable toxic influence of those few corporations that have monopolized our culture. The only way to solve the problem is to break their hold; and to that end the facts of media ownership must be made known to all.
This new order started to get obvious in the spring of 1995, when the F.C.C. summarily let Rupert Murdoch off the hook for having fudged the actual foreign ownership of his concern (an Australian outfit, which Murdoch had not made clear to the busy regulators). The summer then saw ABC sucked into Disney, CBS sucked into Westinghouse, and Ted Turner's mini-empire slated for ingestion by Time Warner: a grand consolidation that the press, the White House, Congress and the F.C.C. have failed to question (although the F.T.C. is finally stirring). With the mergers came some hints of how the new proprietors would henceforth use their journalists: Disney's ABC News apologizing to Philip Morris -- a major TV advertiser, through Kraft Foods -- for having told the truth, on a broadcast of Day One, about P.M.'s manipulation of nicotine levels in its cigarettes; and CBS's in-house counsel ordering the old newshounds at 60 Minutes to bury an explosive interview with whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand about the addictive practices of Brown & Williamson. "..."You and I can't get the antitrust laws enforced," says Mueller, "and the reason we can't is that we don't have access to the media." To fight the trust directly, then, would be to resume the epic struggle that gave us our antitrust laws in the first place -- one that the robber barons themselves soon halted by buying interests in the magazines that had been attacking them. With reformist monthlies like McClure's thus safely "Morganized," the muckrakers were quieted by 1912, as their vehicles were pulled into the same formation that now threatens to contain us all.
"The public, first of all, should be reminded that it owns the airwaves, and that the trust is therefore ripping everybody off -- now more than ever, since those triumphant giants don't even pretend to compensate us with programs "in the public interest." Likewise, we should start discussing taxes on mass advertising. Such a tax, and the tolls on usage of the airwaves, would yield enough annual revenues at least to pay for public broadcasting, whose managers would then no longer have to try to soothe the breasts of savage Congressmen, or sell out for the dubious largesse of Mobil, Texaco and other "underwriters." In 1994, according to Advertising Age, corporations spent a staggering $150 billion on national advertising. That year, it cost just $1.8 billion to pay the full tab for PBS and NPR.
Liberalisation: lowering of entry barriers or the opening up of a domestic telecoms market to competition from foreign companies.
Deregulation: process by which governments reduce state intervention in markets. In telecoms, however, fair competition requires some regulation.
Please send comments to: Colby Glass, MLIS