We the Media -- Media Monopoly
IntroductionThe tragedy and subsequent coverage of Princess Diana's death brought to a head the world's dismay over the cheapening and sensationalism of today's corporate dominated media. The following excerpt from the book, We the Media, are expressions of a growing movement for media democracy, and offers a hard look at media ownership in the global economy. We the Media grew out of the Media & Democracy Congress, an annual gathering of media workers and activists. The second Congress will be held in New York City, Oct. 16-19. For more information visit www.mediademocracy.org.Free The Mediaby Mark Crispin MillerFour giant corporations control the major TV news divisions: NBC, ABC, CBS and 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. What we are witnessing is a contracting universe that touches everything from daily papers to radio stations, cable franchises, television networks and city magazines. John Malone's Tele-Communications Inc. and Sumner Redstone's Viacom aren't telejournalistic powers...yet. Likewise, the octopus that is S.I. Newhouse mainly glides within the world of print, darkening magazines and publishing concerns instead of newscasts. There are also foreign players, like Sony (Columbia, Tri Star) who are treading in global markets fit for the global economy. The true causes of the 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 -- 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. Media monopolization 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). Then ABC was sucked into Disney, CBS sucked into Westinghouse, and Ted Turner's mini-empire become another part of Time Warner, the biggest yet of the media giants: a grand consolidation that the press, the White House, Congress and the F.C.C. failed to question in any significant way.With the mergers came some hints of how the new proprietors would henceforth use their journalists: Disney's ABC News apologized 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 ordered the old newshounds at 60 Minutes to bury an explosive interview with whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand about the addictive practices of Brown & Williamson.Such moves portend the death of broadcast journalism, as does the radical cost-cutting now being dictated by the networks' owners. And yet some good seems also to have come out of this annus horribilis of big waivers, big mergers, big layoffs and big lies. Suddenly, the risks of media monopoly are now apparent not just to the usual uptight minority of activists and scholars but, more and more, to everyone. People want to know what's going on, and what to do about it. The time has therefore come to free the media by creating a new, broad-based Media Democracy Movement dedicated to this all-important mission.This movement must start by getting out the word -- and there's the rub. Our problem has no precedent, for what's monopolized today is no mere staple such as beef or oil but the very media whereby the problem could be solved. Today's media democracy campaign will therefore have to be a thorough grass-roots effort -- one that will work around the mainstream media. It will depend on those idealists who still work within the media: those who would do a good job if they could, but who've been forced to compromise, and those working from the margins -- the stalwarts of the alternative press and of groups like Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. All should henceforth pay attention to developments within the different culture industries. A major element of the Media Democracy Movement is antitrust enforcement. The American Booksellers Association, for instance, filed an antitrust suit against Random House for illegally providing discounts to the national bookstore chains and retailers. Those in other industries should likewise make a fuss. The public, first of all, should be reminded that it owns the airwaves -- 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. The Media Democracy Movement should acknowledge and explain the cultural consequences of monopoly. Our aim is certainly not censorship, which is the tacit goal of rightist demagogues like Ralph Reed and the Rev. Donald Wildmon. The purpose, rather, is a solution wholly constitutional -- and, for that matter, sanely capitalistic. We would reintroduce a pleasurable diversity into the corporate monoculture. There is no substitute for actual democracy -- which cannot work unless the people know what's going on. And so, before we raise the proper legal questions and debate the legislative possibilities, we need simply to teach everyone, ourselves included, that this whole failing culture is an oversold dead end, and that there might be a way out of it.Mark Crispin Miller, chairman of the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University, is the author of Mad Scientists (Norton 1997). *** Global Media for the Global Economyby Robert W. McChesneyWe are in the midst of a sea change in the history of media. Prior to the 1990s media systems had been primarily national in scope, with varying amounts of international trade in books, films, music and television programs. These media sectors have traditionally been the province of a handful of western, mostly U.S., firms. The decisive new development has been the rapid emergence of a historically unprecedented integrated global commercial media market, dominated effectively by less than 50 transnational corporations. The past decade has experienced the greatest wave of media mergers at both the national and global scale in history.U.S. based firms -- though not necessarily owned by Americans -- dominate the global media market and by all accounts they will do so for a long time to come. In global media markets, U.S. firms can capitalize on their competitive advantage of having by far the largest and most lucrative domestic audience to use as a testing ground and to yield large profits. U.S. based firms also can take advantage of the widespread and growing international use of English, especially among the middle and upper classes.By any known theory of political democracy, such a concentration of power into so few mostly unaccountable firms is nothing short of a severe crisis. When this concentration is fused with the overriding commercialism of the system, the implications for politics and culture are that much more alarming. What is emerging is a tiered global media market. In the first tier are around ten colossal vertically integrated media conglomerates. The six largest and most integrated firms are News Corporation, Time Warner, Disney, Bertelsmann, Viacom, and TCI. These firms are major producers of entertainment and media software and have global distributions networks. Although the firms in the first tier are quite large -- with annual sales in the $10-25 billion range -- they are a notch or two below the largest global corporate giants, although all of them rank among the 500 largest global firms in annual sales. Four other firms that round out this first group include PolyGram (owned by Philips), NBC (owned by General Electric), MCA (owned by Seagram), and Sony. All four of these firms are conglomerates with non-media interests, and three of them (Sony, GE and Philips) are huge electronics concerns that at least double the annual sales of any first tier media firm. None of them are as fully integrated as the first six firms, but they have the resources to do so if they wish to.There is a second tier of approximately three dozen quite large media firms -- with annual sales generally in the $2-10 billion range -- that fill regional or niche markets within the global system. Most of these firms rank among the 1,000 largest global firms in terms of market valuation. Nearly 1/2 of the second tier firms are based in the United States and around the same number are based in Europe. The system is rounded out be a handful of powerful firms -- like Mexico's Televisa and Brazil's Globo -- that dominate nations and regions in the Third World. These second tier firms will tend to have working agreements and/or joint ventures with one or more of the giants in the first tier and with each other; none will attempt to "go it alone." As the head of Norway's largest media company stated, "We want to position ourselves so if Kirch or Murdoch want to sell in Scandinavia, they'll come to us first."Global advertising is dominated by the 200 or so of the largest corporations and is conducted mainly by a handful of global advertising agencies based in New York, London, Paris and Tokyo. In constant dollars annual global advertising expenditures have risen by 30 percent in the past decade, and forecasts call for it to increase at rates in excess of economic growth through the year 2000 and beyond. One industry analyst predicts global advertising will increase from the 1995 total of $335 billion to $2 trillion in 2020. The North American share of global advertising has fallen from 60 percent in 1970 to 47 percent in 1995. Although U.S. advertising will continue to increase at the pace of U.S. GDP growth, the North American portion of global advertising is projected to continue to decline. Robert W. McChesey is Associate Professor, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, the University of Wisconsin-Madison. ***Gorilla in the Picture Businessby David WalkerBack in the late 1980s, Bill Gates envisioned the house of the future with PC screens throughout. Built into the walls, the screens would display photos and works of art selected by remote control. Perhaps a Picasso motif in the morning; Matisse in the afternoon.In 1989, Gates started Interactive Home Systems to build the image database so he could make money "renting" the pictures. Along the way he realized that the future belongs to owners of intellectual property, since computer networks will be able to distribute creative works quickly and easily. The more intellectual property you own, obviously, the more money you make. So Gates' odd little project has turned into a large image licensing enterprise called Corbis. Corbis will eventually license pictures not only to book, magazine and newspaper publishers (the traditional market for editorial photos) but to Web publishers, school children, consumers with PCs in their walls, and virtually any other type of non-advertising user. Corbis employees have fanned out around the world to buy up copyrights--or at least long-term rights of distribution--to the best photographs and paintings they can find. They are shopping at museums, at photo archives, at the homes of private collectors and the studios of the artists themselves to find pictures of everything known to mankind. And as Citizen Gates, the Microsoft CEO is exercising his right to obtain essentially free copies of pictures from NASA and the Library of Congress, adding those works to Corbis as well. For images he can't find in existing collections, Gates is hiring photographers to shoot for him.But when Gates dominates the editorial image business, as he clearly intends to do, he'll largely control what works are selected for distribution. Will he choose pictures for their diversity of ideas? Or will he choose them for their mass market appeal? There's good reason to worry that consolidation of the image business, like consolidation of other media businesses, will narrow choice to the bland center, where all the pictures match the sofas and carpets of middle class Americans, and don't upset the guests.David Walker is a writer for Photo District News. ***Scary But True...Ted Turner's TNT delayed production of "Strange Justice," a TV-movie adaptation of the best-selling book about the Clarence Thomas hearings, for fear of offending Justice Thomas during the Supreme Court's ongoing deliberations over a cable regulation case whose outcome could enrich Time Warner by zillions of dollars. (New York Times/Variety)Censorship is a Rupert Murdoch stock in trade. He took the BBC off his satellite programming to Asia because it sometimes ran stories critical of the Chinese government -- which controlled a lucrative market for Murdoch. "The BBC was driving them nuts," Murdoch told The New Yorker. "It's not worth it." (Extra!)Press baron Conrad Black, who acquired Southam's 17 daily and 33 weekly Canadian newspapers, now controls 42 percent of all Canadian daily newspapers. (Adbusters)By the end of 1996, Microsoft's Bill Gates had amassed rights 17 million photographs and images. The telecom industry contributed more than $2 million in PAC money during the six-month negotiation period for the Telecom Act, nearly three-quarters of which went to the newly ascendant Republicans. By contrast, consumer groups contributed little, if anything. This figure does not include individual contributions given by telecommunications industry executives or investors, which may amount to as much or more than the institutional PAC money. (Center for Responsive Politics)The Telecommunications Act of 1996 gave cable companies greater flexibility in setting rates, partially repealing a 1992 cable law passed to rein in soaring cable prices. As a result, cable television bills rose 10.4 percent during the first half of 1996. (Wall Street JournalIn the first six months after passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, there were $50 billion of mergers and acquisitions, double the total of any previous 12-month period. Four of those deals exceeded $10 billion.According to the Tyndall Report, a newsletter that tracks the amount of time nightly network newscasts devote to various issues, neither the passage nor the signing of the most sweeping telecommunications legislation in 60 years made the top 10 stories in their respective weeks.