Media Oligopoly: Small World Of Big Conglomerates FWD

Tom Boland (
Tue, 16 Nov 1999 18:50:23 -0800 (PST)
FWD  The Nation magazine - November 29, 1999



The nineties have been a typical fin de si╦cle decade in at least one
important respect: The realm of media is on the brink of a profound
transformation. Whereas previously media systems were primarily
national, in the past few years a global commercial-media market has
emerged. "What you are seeing," says Christopher Dixon, media analyst
for the investment firm PaineWebber, "is the creation of a global
oligopoly. It happened to the oil and automotive industries earlier this
century; now it is happening to the entertainment industry."


With hypercommercialism and growing corporate control comes an implicit
political bias in media content.  Consumerism, class inequality and
individualism tend to be taken as natural and even benevolent, whereas
political activity, civic values and antimarket activities are
marginalized. The best journalism is pitched to the business class and
suited to its needs and prejudices; with a few notable exceptions, the
journalism reserved for the masses tends to be the sort of drivel
provided by the media giants on their US television stations. This slant
is often quite subtle. Indeed, the genius of the commercial-media system
is the general lack of overt censorship. As George Orwell noted in his
unpublished introduction to Animal Farm, censorship in free societies is
infinitely more sophisticated and thorough than in dictatorships,
because "unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept
dark, without any need for an official ban."


It may seem difficult to see much hope for change. As one Swedish
journalist noted in 1997, "Unfortunately, the trends are very clear,
moving in the wrong direction on virtually every score, and there is a
desperate lack of public discussion of the long-term implications of
current developments for democracy and accountability." But there are
indications that progressive political movements around the world are
increasingly making media issues part of their political platforms. From
Sweden, France and India to Australia, New Zealand and Canada,
democratic left political parties are making structural media
reform--breaking up the big companies, recharging nonprofit and
noncommercial broadcasting and media--central to their agenda. They are
finding out that this is a successful issue with voters.

At the same time, the fate of the global media system is intricately
intertwined with that of global capitalism, and despite the
self-congratulatory celebration of the free market in the US media, the
international system is showing signs of weakness. Asia, the so-called
tiger of twenty-first-century capitalism, fell into a depression in
1997, and its recovery is still uncertain. Even if there is no global
depression, discontent is brewing in those parts of the world and among
those segments of the population that have been left behind in this era
of economic growth. Latin America, the other vaunted champion of market
reforms since the eighties, has seen what a World Bank official terms a
"big increase in inequality." While the dominance of commercial media
makes resistance more difficult, it is not hard to imagine widespread
opposition to these trends calling into question the triumph of
the neoliberal economic model and the global media system it has helped


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