Dr. Brandreth Has Gone to
Paradise Lost or Paradise
excerpted from the book
The New Media Monopoly
by Ben Bagdikian
Beacon Press, 2004
Corporations as Heroes
Perhaps nowhere is the cynicism more blatant
than in the newly energized activity known as corporate advertising.
This constitutes printed and broadcast ads designed not to sell
goods and services but to promote the politics and benevolent
image of the corporation-and to attack anything that spoils the
image. Ideology-image ads as a category of all ads doubled in
the 1970s and had become a half-billion dollar-a-year enterprise.
The head of a large advertising agency described the purpose:
It presents the corporation as hero,
a responsible citizen, a force for good, presenting information
on the work the company is doing in community relations, assisting
the less fortunate, minimizing pollution, controlling drugs, ameliorating
The Best Atmosphere for Selling
At one time the Bell & Howell Company
attempted to break the pattern of escapist, superficial prime-time
programs by sponsoring news documentaries. The president of the
company told the FCC that this was tried to help counter the standards
applied by most advertisers, which he described, disapprovingly,
as consisting of the following requirements:
One should not associate with controversy;
one should always reach for the highest ratings; one should never
forget that there is safety in numbers; one should always remember
that comedy, adventure and escapism provide the best atmosphere
Even if a non-escapist program becomes
a commercial success, it is likely to be canceled by the networks
or major local stations. In the early days of television, there
were outstanding serious programs, including live, original drama:
Kraft Television Theatre, Goodyear Playhouse, Studio One, Robert
Montgomery Presents, U.S. Steel Hour, Revlon Theater, Omnibus,
Motorola TV Hour, The Elgin Hour, Matinee Theater, and Playhouse
Networks make most of their money between the hours of 8:00 and
11:00 P.M.-prime time. They wish to keep the audience tuned from
one half-hour segment to the next and they prefer the "buying
mood" sustained as well. A serious half-hour program in that
period that has high ratings may, nevertheless, be questioned
because it will interrupt the evening's flow of lightness and
fantasy. In that sense, the whole evening is a , single block
of atmosphere-a selling atmosphere.
The growing trend among newspapers to
turn over sections of the "news" to the advertising
department usually produces copy that is not marked "advertising"
but is full of promotional material under the guise of news. The
advertising department of the Houston Chronicle, for example,
provided all the "news" for the following sections of
the paper: home, townhouse, apartments, travel, technology, livestock,
and swimming pools. The vice president of sales and marketing
of the Chronicle said: "We do nothing controversial. We're
not in the investigative business. Our only concern is giving
editorial support to our ad projects."
Fiberoptic cable can carry 320 or more video channels in one fiber.
Even existing copper wiring to most homes has adopted the technique
of multiplexing that permits many channels to travel over one
copper wire simultaneously. Ordinary cable to homes in many places
offers 91 available channels. Satellite transmission to home rooftop
dishes carries more than 120 channels.
In the 1960S, when these new technologies were in their birth
pangs, there was widespread discussion based on the reasonable
assumption that in time these new capacities would be used for
the public good. Conferences of technologists, social scientists,
economists, and journalists considered how best to use them. Major
foundations issued highly researched possibilities for a rich
spectrum of noncommercial programs. Books were written on the
coming bright new world. All assumed that the United States would
adapt the new technologies to the special needs of the breadth
and variety of the country's geography and population. The country
would finally achieve what some other modern democracies already
had in operation, and perhaps more.
But it was not to be. There would be no
use of these technologies for noncommercial civic programs. Commercial
broadcast media corporations rapidly increased their control of
every significant medium, including daily newspapers and magazines.
The news ideas were reported in news stories and industry publications.
But as media conglomerates grew in size and acquired the largest
news organizations, the assumption of noncommercial use of the
new technologies ceased to appear.
The commercial conglomerates did their
political best to elect members of Congress and the White House
who then dared not offend them by creating a large public system
whose audiences would reduce ratings for the commercialized channels.
The big media were loud in the clamor for deregulation of everything
possible. Private media power successfully used its political
The failure of the vision for enlarged
public channels is filled with ironies:
Most new communications technologies were
established with taxpayers, money. Like the Internet, satellite
transmission, for example, would not exist without its creation
of communications satellites by government agencies and subsidies
paid for with peoples' taxes. The airwaves, the broadcast frequencies
on which most Americans depend, happen to be public property.
For all practical purposes these public airwaves have been expropriated
by giant media corporations.
When the United States defeated Japan
in World War II and established an American administration to
reconstruct the old Imperial Government, it mandated that Japan
create a noncommercial, unpoliticized broadcast system that would
not depend on annual parliamentary appropriations. The Japanese
adopted their present broadcasting system because the American
occupying forces declared publicly that no modern democracy should
be without one. That is why Japan's NHK has the most capacious,
diverse, and varied noncommercial broadcasting system in the world,
with the British Broadcasting Company second. Both are financed
by a fixed tax on broadcast receivers in each home, comparable
to annual auto registration fees in the United States. Both the
Japanese and the English clearly are sufficiently pleased with
the arrangement to have maintained it for more than half a century.
There are now dual systems in Japan with
private operation with commercials and pay radio and television.
Britain, too, now has commercial channels in ITV, alongside the
The comparatively tiny U.S. public system
depends on congressional appropriations. Public broadcasting remains
tiny because commercial broadcast conglomerates have the lobbying
power and campaign contributions to make certain that Congress
will not mandate a [strong public broadcasting] system like NHK
for the United States, even though it was the United States that
demanded that Japan must have one.
Today, the five huge corporate conglomerates
are free to behave as though they "own" every major
broadcast channel of communication in the country. In addition,
they also own most of the production companies that create the
The large media conglomerates do not want
greater political and social diversity because it would dilute
their audiences and thereby reduce the fees they can demand for
the commercials that produce their unprecedented profit levels.
They have defeated moves by Congress and federal agencies I to
alter their restrictive policies. In addition, they have used
j their power to create new laws that limit even more the entry
| of new media into the national scene. They have been a most
powerful force in shifting the political spectrum of the United
States to the right.
The artificial control over the country's
political spectrum was demonstrated in 2001 by large-scale protests
against the United States invasion of Iraq. The protests were
organized almost entirely via the Internet, the one important
medium not yet controlled by the media monopolies. Initially,
the standard media owned by conglomerates systematically underreported
most of the thousands of protesters who took to the streets across
the country and the world. Only after foreign news agencies reported
the numbers more accurately-and many Americans used access to
these foreign news agencies by Internet-did the American conglomerates
alter their earlier inaccurate reporting.
This limitation of the major media extends
beyond national policies. The media giants, left largely free
to do what they wish, have found ever-lower levels of coarsened
culture and models. Prime-time television "reality"
programs glorify some of the more revolting emotions in the human
psyche-deceit, cynical sexuality, greed, and the desire to exploit,
humiliate, and elicit shattering emotional breakdowns on camera.
The control of most of what the American public reads, sees, and
hears is not a merely technological phenomenon, nor is it just
an item in the nation's economy. It is a phenomenon that goes
to the heart of the American democracy and the national psyche.
The power of the [media] conglomerates to sustain myths about
national policies has produced growing chaos and crisis in cities
and states across the country. The major media for decades have
printed and broadcast the mythology that the people of the United
States are crushed by the highest taxes among modern democracies.
The opposite is true. Of all comparably developed countries, United
States citizens pay-in all taxes of every kind-29.7 percent of
the country's gross domestic product, while the average for the
twenty-four countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation
and Development is 38.7 percent. The United Kingdom, for example,
pays 33.6 percent, Canada 35.6 percent, Germany 39 percent, and
Sweden 49.9 percent.
To add insult to injury, the country has
the lowest income tax among peer nations for its wealthy citizens.
The top tax for millionaires used to be 70 percent; in recent
years the top rate has been cut to 33 percent.
No one loves to pay taxes. Voters in the
countries mentioned could vote against candidates who support
the higher taxation, but they seldom do so. They tolerate higher
taxes because they value their guaranteed health care, their living
wages, their housing for all, and all the other social programs
that are either missing in the United States or remain a hodgepodge
depending on the city or state in which an American citizen happens
to live. Yet the major media in the United States have been the
emphatic voice of every politician and corporate chieftain complaining
about "confiscatory taxes."
New Media Monopoly