Rolls Into 21st Century
by Gumisai Mutume
Inter Press Service (news agency), Rome, Nov.
(World Press Review, March 2000)
The world faces the spectrum of a global commercial media
sector swamping the traditional national press and promoting the
commercial values of international capital, according to media
analysts. They warn that the development of such a juggernaut
hardly augurs well for any diversity of opinion and freedom of
expression, and threatens to muffle the voices of the world's
poor majority in a continually globalizing world.
Some nine super-corporations already virtually control the
industry and, together with 40 or so smaller players, produce
the bulk of the world's newspapers, magazines, books, films, and
television and radio programs. "In some ways, the emerging
global commercial media system is not an entirely negative proposition,"
notes Robert McChesney, professor at the Institute of Communications
Research at the University of Illinois. "Occasionally it
promotes anti-racist, anti-sexist, or anti-authoritarian messages
that can be welcome in some of the more repressive corners of
the world. But on balance, the system has minimal interest in
journalism or public affairs-except for that which serves the
business and upper-middle classes and provides privileges for
the few lucrative genres that it can do quite well, such as sports,
light entertainment, and action movies."
In his book Rich Media, Poor Democracy, McChesney says even
at its best the entire system is saturated with hyper-commercialism.
Consumerism, class inequality, and individualism are taken as
natural while political activity, civic values, and anti-market
activities are marginalized. As trade liberalization pries open
global markets, the same few multinationals are bound to further
consolidate their hold-from Argentina to South Africa, Australia
to India, and just about any other liberalizing economy.
In the capital cities of the world, very few people have never
heard about CNN, Walt Disney, or Sony. They enter the living rooms
of the world on a daily basis and are among the media groups owned
by the nine largest conglomerates -General Electric, Sony, AT&T/Liberty
Media, Disney, Time Warner, News Corporation, Viacom and Seagram,
and the German-based Bertelsmann.
The world's first global TV news channel, CNN International,
beams its signal to more than 200 nations by satellite technology.
It broadcasts in Spanish and aims to expand to Hindi, French,
Japanese, and Arabic on its way to becoming a truly global commodity.
It now is owned by Time Warner, which was rated [in 1998] the
largest media corporation in the world with nearly $30 billion
Before the media explosion of the late 1980s, national media
generally were characterized by locally or state-owned radio,
television, and newspapers, especially in developing countries.
When a flurry of mergers, takeovers, and cross-ownerships began,
some sections believed that the advent of the Internet would eliminate
the monopoly of these media giants as a new democratic medium
was being established, notes McChesney. Subsequent developments,
however, have seen the same corporations also colonizing the Internet.
In September 1998 came the world's biggest media merger with
one of the world's largest entertainment companies, Viacom, amalgamating
with another big player, CBS. Viacom owns or holds interests in
Blockbuster, MTV Networks, Paramount Pictures, 19 TV stations
including UPN, and National Amusements Incorporated, a company
that operates approximately 1,300 movie screens in the United
States, the United Kingdom, and South America.
On the other hand, the CBS Corporation owns CBS Television
and Infinity Broadcasting Corporation. Seven of its 15 TV stations
are in the top-10 markets while Infinity Broadcasting Corporation
operates 163 radio stations. "This exciting merger creates
the industry-leading media company for today and a dynamic growth
vehicle that will benefit shareholders well into the future,"
said Sumner Redstone, chairman and chief executive of Viacom.
"We will be global leaders in every facet of the media and
entertainment industry, financially strong from day one, with
an enviable stable of global brands. Indeed, the creation of this
formidable media giant marks the beginning of a new era of explosive
growth domestically and around the world."
But critics fear the influence of the market on the news values
of such media organizations, driven by the profit motive. For
instance, how will poor African, Asian, and Latin American countries
be covered and portrayed on the media outlets owned by these corporations?
The world has shrugged off the idealistic notions of the 1970s,
when there was an attempt to introduce a "New World Information
and Communication Order" to pay more attention to the nations
of the South.
Missing in today's unipolar, commercially driven world, however,
is any international debate on the implications of such mergers
and monopolies for media pluralism, democracy, and accountability,
especially for developing nations. "The financial markets
have certainly spoken. They have richly rewarded some media-company
mergers and made stockholders-including journalists-happy folks,"
writes Tom Goldstein, dean of the Columbia University's Graduate
School of Journalism in an essay for Columbia Journalism Review's
Web site. "Walk into the lobby of a big newspaper these days,
and you might be confronted with the latest stock price of the
paper's parent company," says Goldstein. "If journalism
is just another business, then the primary scorecard of success
is justifiably the verdict of the financial markets." These
media powers are not only based in developed countries. Clarin
in Argentina, Globo of Brazil, Televisa in Mexico, and Venezuela's
Cisneros Group are among the world's 70 largest media groups and,
like their bigger rivals, are also expanding into their regional
markets, McChesney observes.
Nonetheless, amid mounting pressure to open up the global
market, some countries are resisting. The Nordic states, Brazil,
Mexico, South Africa, and South Korea-as well as a host of others-continue
to subsidize their small movie industries. They were among 20
countries that met last year in Ottawa, Canada, to work out ways
to keep the power of Hollywood from destroying their film industries.
One of the proposals adopted at that conference was to ensure
that the World Trade Organization (WTO), which is promoting free
trade and opening up the world to international capital, be kept
out of the cultural arena. Yet it may only be a matter of time
before the WTO frees up all areas of trade in order to promote
what it calls efficient markets.
Propaganda and Media Control