mad in pursuit: greed & arrogance

2004 political season

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8.27.04 Censorship and the Corporate Planet

We are so proud of our unalienable right to free speech. But what happens when free speech is muted by self-interested corporations? A long period of corporate consolidation has resulted in the big news channels being controlled by conservative media moguls (like Rupert Murdoch) or giant conglomerates (like GE).

I was reading an excerpt from "Crimes Against Nature: How George W. Bush and His Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy" by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

The universally positive response to my speeches confirms national polls that consistently show strong support for environmental protection across party lines.

But I invariably hear the same refrain from audiences: "Why haven't I heard any of this before? Why aren't the environmentalists getting the word out?" The fact is, there is no lack of effort on our part to inform the public, but we often hit a stone wall: the media. They are simply unwilling to cover environmental issues.

Ted Turner echoes this in his Washington Monthly article "My Beef with Big Media." He admits to his own fervor in building a media empire, but now mourns the loss of the independent voice as corporations gobble up stations and the means of production. His observations probably hold true for any organization that was founded in the public interest but now finds itself in an ambitious "bigger is better" cycle.

Turner sites 3 problems with consolidation: (1) Loss of quality: focusing on the quarterly "scorecard" and quick turnaround of investments means less commitment to a mission and fewer programming risks. Hence, cheap "reality" programs crowd out high quality productions.

(2) Loss of localism. Local coverage is expensive -- who needs it? Big corporations run their radio and TV stations from a central location.

In early 2002, when a freight train derailed near Minot, N.D., releasing a cloud of anhydrous ammonia over the town, police tried to call local radio stations, six of which are owned by radio mammoth Clear Channel Communications. According to news reports, it took them over an hour to reach anyone--no one was answering the Clear Channel phone. By the next day, 300 people had been hospitalized, many partially blinded by the ammonia. Pets and livestock died. And Clear Channel continued beaming its signal from headquarters in San Antonio, Texas--some 1,600 miles away.

And finally, (3) Loss of democratic debate. Big media conglomerates are not antagonistic. They do not cover a diversity of perspectives. They all cover pretty much the same pap -- have you ever tried looking for some world news but find Kobe Bryant or Michael Jackson on every cable news channel? We suffer endless picking at the Swift Boat controversy, while the Bush administration quietly changes all the rules on environmental protection and federal communications.

When I was a student of corporate strategy, I understood the heady concepts of "vertical integration" and "horizontal integration" and "consolidation" within an industry. "Oligopoly" means that a few corporations dominate an industry, settle into their niches, don't really compete, and band together when they want concessions from government.

Now that I'm Susie Citizen, I'm beginning to see that these successful corporate strategies are not serving the public interest -- especially not in Big Media.





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