Ownership and Control of Media

by Peter Phillips

excerpted from the book

War, Lies & Videotape

International Action Center, 2000



Twenty-two years ago there were approximately fifty media \ corporations that dominated the U.S. news services. Today that number is less than a dozen. The Federal Communications Commission used to limit television and radio station ownership. Now, since the passage of the Telecommunications Act in 1996 a single corporation can own radio, television, book publishing, newspapers, and Internet services, all in the same market area, and up to a 1/3 market share nationally. This means that the major media corporations that own most of our news systems today will be down to 3 or 4 corporations in the next decade.

Mainstream media is in a gold rush of acquisitions and mergers including: Time Warner's merger with CNN; ABC being taken over by Disney; and Westinghouse (CBS) buying up Infinity Radio Group. Over one third of all the radio stations in the United States have been sold within the last 18 months. This is happening in the newspaper industry as well. Gannett and Knight-Ridder have taken the lead in ownership of newspaper chains, together holding close to 200 metropolitan news publications.

I was impressed to learn yesterday that Athens has some 15 daily newspapers. In the United States, 98% of all cities have one newspaper, and these are rapidly being taken over by giant corporations.

The U.S. media has lost its diversity and its ability to present different points of view. Instead, there is a homogeneity of news stories and the major media tend to look alike.

The media in the U.S. has created, to use Neil Postman's words, the "best entertained, least informed society in the world." Americans are ignorant about international affairs and alienated from their own social issues. A growing portion of the people in the U.S. Iive in gated communities, and as Cornell West says, the "vanilla" suburbs have built institutional barriers to segregate themselves from the " chocolate" cities.

The media provide entertainment and fear. The American public watches celebrity news, infomercials, titillation, and sex as entertainment. Crime reports, stories of the underclass, immigrants, and welfare cheats create fear and loathing. Crime reporting has risen significantly in this decade, while at the same time actual crime has declined in the United States.

Media develop target markets and audiences, focusing on upper middle-class people with money and the ability to buy products. Little wonder that a recent Associated Press story released nationally was entitled: "How to Decorate Around Your Big Screen TV."

Last summer, researchers at Sonoma State University looked up the names of the 155 people who served on the boards of directors of the eleven media companies that dominated the U.S. market. This is a group small enough to fit into this room. They are 90% white males. Recently, Rupert Murdoch, despite his marital difficulties, has graciously agreed to allow his wife Anna Murdoch to retain her seat on News Corp's board of directors.

Who are these 155 media elites-directors of the largest combined media news systems in the world? They include men like: Frank Carlucci, who sits on the board of directors of Westinghouse (CBS), and was former deputy director of the CIA and later Secretary of Defense under President Bush; Andrew Sigler, on GE's (NBC) board, also sits on the board of directors of Chemical Bank, Bristol Meyers, Allied Signal, Champion International and Chase Manhattan Bank; Douglas Warner III, who is on GE's (NBC) board, is also on the board of directors of Bechtel Group, Anheuser-Busch and is the CEO of J.P. Morgan Company.

The 155 media elite are mostly individuals who inherited wealth, were educated in private preparatory schools and ivy league universities, and whose main social interactions occur at the Knickerbocker Club in New York, Bohemian Grove in California or the Piedmont Driving Range in Atlanta. They represent private wealth, private education, private clubs and they control immense media resources. These media resources provide most people in the United States with their sole source of news and information.

The top 11 media corporations in the U.S. form a solid network of overlapping interests and affiliations. The 155 directors of these 11 media corporations sit on the board of directors of 144 of the Fortune 1000 corporations and interlock with each other through shared directorships in other firms some 36 times.

NBC, Fox News, and Time Warner each has a board member who sits as a director on tobacco producer Philip Morris's board. CB S (Westinghouse) shares directorships on Fortune 1000 boards with the Washington Post, Time-Warner, NBC (GE), Gannett, Viacom and the Times Mirror Corporation (LA Times).

Little wonder that the U.S. news is so biased against democratic liberation struggles all over the world and is so favorable to multi-national capital flow, International Monetary Fund politics, GATT, MAI, NAFTA, and all the other neo-liberal economic policies that favor the free flow of international capital and wealth acquisition. Democracy to the media elite means freedom to economically exploit, freedom to move money anywhere in the world, and freedom to present their own ideological messages.

The U.S. media ignores big questions like: Who loses in the process of economic growth and wealth accumulation? What about the one billion people in the world who are surplus labor and un-needed in the international market place? How are they to survive? What about the global issues of environmental sustainability and the using up of our unrenewable natural resources.

These are the questions of a socio-environmental apocalypse. Free market capitalism is creating an evil empire of corruption and waste that generates wretchedness for billions of people. All the indicators are that wealth and resources do not trickle down but rather become increasingly concentrated in the hands of the elites in the nation states of the First World and their senior and junior partners around the globe.

What hope have we? What direction can resistance take? I do not believe that we can expect reform from within the international global media system, especially in the United States. Media wealth is too concentrated, too solidified, and too integrated into the corporate government elite to make social change possible.

We can, however, look to ourselves for the direction we must go. In the past two years there have been two Media and Democracy Conventions in the United States. One was in San Francisco two and a half years ago and the other in New York last October. They each brought together 1,500 to 2,000 independent/alternative media writers, editors, film producers and broadcasters, who jointly recognized many of the same concerns with corporate media that we have covered over the past three days.

Media and Democracy is rapidly becoming a grass roots movement based on a shared vision of building alternative news and information systems independent from corporate influence. Hundreds of pirate radio stations, many now under attack by the FCC and defended in part by the National Lawyers Guild and Luke Hiken ... have sprung up all over the U.S. offering a diversity of programs. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), Institute of Alternative Journalism (IAJ), and numerous First Amendment groups, Internet newsletters and news magazines are active all over the United States.

... Alternative/independent media sources in the U.S. are still small, often territorially competitive and under-financed. Yet they offer a hope for the future.

Academics, progressives and leftists have been rightly criticized for being intellectually elitist and condescending. Michael Moore criticized the Media and Democracy Congress in New York for its failure to incorporate working class people into its agenda. This is a failure that we cannot ignore! The 60% of the population who are blue and white collar workers surviving paycheck to paycheck are alive and well. Yet they are confused by a media system that can't or won't explain why the purchasing power of their paychecks continues to decline as health care costs rise, housing becomes unaffordable, and taxes keep increasing.

Major media has led working people towards racial hatred, immigrant bashing, and attacks on welfare. People are fearful of the homeless because they fear homelessness themselves. They blame and attack the victims of corporate greed. They pay high tuition to send their children to universities, and these students often end up back home after graduation with huge student loan debts and few professional prospects for employment. Most working people are politically alienated and more than one-half no longer vote.

Yet, working people have strong core values that honor hard work, freedom, democratic process, equal opportunity, freedom of expression, due process, and systemic fairness. Several times over the past 100 years working people have joined with progressives, forming social movements that changed the United States.

The Progressive Movement 100 years ago challenged the Robber Barons and corporate wealth concentration and instituted income tax on the rich, an 8-hour work day, the rights of governmental recall, and citizen proposition. The Suffrage Movement gave women the right to vote. The Labor Movement in the 1930s forced a New Deal that allowed unionism, national social welfare, old age pensions, and national public health.

The Civil Rights Movement broke the back of racial segregation and the Peace Movement challenged the illegal war in Vietnam. The Environmental Movement, the American Indian Movement, and the Women's Movement have all introduced needed changes in society. Each of these movements depended on thousands of working people, who contributed, marched and in many cases died for their beliefs.

We must, and we can reawaken the values of the working people in order to mobilize against the socio-environmental apocalypse. A free flow of ideas will only happen outside of corporate media, outside of the government-corporate spin doctors.

An alternative/independent press can be a key element in a social movement that empowers working people in the U.S. to take control of their government/corporate power structures for their own betterment and that of the world. "Free the Media" can become a real rallying cry that will allow the emergence of what the new democratized AFL-CIO calls "Common Sense Economics," an economics that unmasks corporate wealth exploitation and offers an alternative that benefits working people worldwide.

Can we strengthen alternative/independent news systems in the United States? I believe we can by sharing news stories, Internet connections, joint promotional/marketing plans, and by addressing the important socio-economic, environmental, gender and racial issues in the U.S. and in the world.

I think that the American public needs to know that the U. S. is now the arms merchant to the world, selling 60% of all export weapons, using 650 government employees in embassies all over the world to promote weapons sales for private corporate profits.

I think the U.S. public deserves to know that many of their cosmetics and body lotions are carcinogenic, that U.S. companies manufacture torture devices and that a national l.D. card system is just around the big brother corner. The public needs to know that their private e-mail, telephone, and fax messages are monitored by U.S and allied intelligence services and that their public universities have become dependent on private corporate funding.

These are issues that must be addressed in order to solve the apocalyptic problems of wealth accumulation, environmental sustainability, and surplus labor forces.

For people in the U.S. this means building and supporting alternative news and information systems, and becoming local activists with global awareness. For those outside the U.S. it means sharing viewpoints, news stories, and information with the alternative press in the U.S. and helping reeducate working people to our shared global problems.

Project Censored annually compiles a listing of over 400 alternative press publications and media outlets in the United States. We are willing to share this resource electronically with journalists anywhere.

Remember, we have had Reagan, Thatcher, and Yeltsen, but as Jim Hightower likes to say, " Three right turns make a left." So it is time to move forward, remembering that Robin Hood may have been right after all.

War, Lies & Videotape

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