Big Media & the MPAA by James Jaeger
Sure you could say Ted Turner is sour grapes having lost so many billions on paper -- but that doesn't make what he says in, MY BEEF WITH BIG MEDIA, any less true.(1)
Turner: "This is a fight about freedom -- the freedom of independent entrepreneurs to start and run a media business, and the freedom of citizens to get news, information, and entertainment from a wide variety of sources ..."
Right now in the feature film business, 7 companies -- Buena Vista Pictures Distribution; Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.; Paramount Pictures Corporation; Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; Universal City Studios LLLP; and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. -- monopolize 80 - 90 percent of the market and resources. These are known as the MPAA studio/distributors and they are part of "big media."
A similar theme of consolidation (a fancy word for monopolization, or at the very least, oligopolization) was echoed by John Nichols and Robert McChesney in their book, IT'S THE MEDIA STUPID, released in 2000 (with introduction by Ralph Nader, Barbara Ehrenreich and Senator Paul Wellstone). In 2000, IT'S THE MEDIA, STUPID stated that in just the past decade ownership of the media has consolidated into the hands of less than 10 transnational corporations. The largest of these do between $8 and $30 billion in revenues a year and are as follows:
- WALT DISNEY COMPANY
- AOL-TIME WARNER
- NEWS CORP.
- VIVENDI/Universal (formerly Segrams/Universal)
- AT&T (Liberty Media)
- GENERAL ELECTRIC (NBC)
Bear in mind that the above companies own the above MPAA companies: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution; Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.; Paramount Pictures Corporation; Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; Universal City Studios LLLP; and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
In 2004, in his recent article (which neither the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal would publish), Ted Turner states:
"Today, media companies are more concentrated than at any time over the past 40 years, thanks to a continual loosening of ownership rules by Washington. The media giants now own not only broadcast networks and local stations; they also own the cable companies that pipe in the signals of their competitors and the studios that produce most of the programming. To get a flavor of how consolidated the industry has become, consider this: In 1990, the major broadcast networks --ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox -- fully or partially owned just 12.5 percent of the new series they aired. By 2000, it was 56.3 percent. Just two years later, it had surged to 77.5"
IT'S THE MEDIA STUPID has as its central thesis that a free marketplace of ideas can't exist in a media devoid of diversity and only interested in crass commercialism. Such commercialism creates an environment where good journalism suffocates, especially journalism which is critical of the media itself. Because such a media will NOT discuss issues relating to itself, there can be no reform: the powers-that-be, in effect, refuse to make media an issue. This creates a bottleneck for all other issues that need to be freely discussed. Issues need to flow to and from the public so well-informed decisions can be made and a democratic society can breath. Thus the authors emphasize that making the media an ISSUE is the ONLY WAY to break open free discourse on ALL OTHER ISSUES of vital concern. Ted Turner is making the media an issue at this time.
Whereas an open and free press are relatively obvious, there is a far more powerful form of mass communication that subtly and significantly alters society. Such is the feature motion picture in its role as a long-term instrument of propaganda. Interestingly, years before Turner, Nichols, McChesney, Nader, Ehrenreich or Wellstone, John Cones stated in, WHAT'S REALLY GOING ON IN HOLLYWOOD!, the following:
"Unfortunately, there appears to be a significant number of people within our society that have allowed themselves to be brainwashed by movie industry propaganda over the years, and have concluded that movies are not important, that they are really only entertainment, and that they do not influence human behavior. On the other hand, once more people recognize that movies are more than mere entertainment, that they are, in fact, a significant medium for the communication of ideas, and that ideas influence human behavior--therefore, movies influence behavior, then it is likely that people will understand that movies are important, and that they are actually evolving into a vital component of the health and welfare of our entire society.
"It is then also easier for more people to recognize that they must become involved in making certain that the leaders of the motion picture industry more accurately reflect the diversity of our society. Such diversity at the top will, in turn, be reflected in the decisions that determine which movies are produced and released, who gets to work on those movies and the messages that are regularly communicated through motion pictures. After all, every citizen has a stake in what messages are repeatedly being communicated to the rest of our society, particularly when those messages are being communicated through such a powerful medium as the motion picture."(2)
And the "powerful medium" of the motion picture is owned, lock stock and barrel, by the very multi-national corporations, cited above, and with which Ted Turner has a "beef". To wit:
"These big companies are not antagonistic; they do billions of dollars in business with each other. ... You've felt the impact over the past two years, as you saw little news from ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, Fox, or CNN on the FCC's actions. In early 2003, the Pew Research Center found that 72 percent of Americans had heard "nothing at all" about the proposed FCC rule changes. Why? One never knows for sure, but it must have been clear to news directors that the more they covered this issue, the harder it would be for their corporate bosses to get the policy result they wanted. A few media conglomerates now exercise a near-monopoly over television news. There is always a risk that news organizations can emphasize or ignore stories to serve their corporate purpose. But the risk is far greater when there are no independent competitors to air the side of the story the corporation wants to ignore." - Ted Turner
The authors of IT'S THE MEDIA, STUPID emphasize that the media DESERVES to be made an issue because: THE PEOPLE OWN THE AIRWAVES, not multi-national corporations. Thus government action is needed and justified.
Turner supports government action by saying: "At this late stage, media companies have grown so large and powerful, and their dominance has become so detrimental to the survival of small, emerging companies, that there remains only one alternative: BUST UP BIG CONGLOMERATES (emphasis added). We've done this before: to the railroad trusts in the first part of the 20th century, to Ma Bell more recently."
Although some allies exist in Congress (such as Senator Paul Wellstone, Representative Bernie Sanders and Representative John Conyers) the authors of IT'S THE MEDIA, STUPID emphasize that the Democratic and Republican parties WILL NOT be the parties to make MEDIA AN ISSUE because they are too dependent on the media to get their candidates elected. The book also emphasizes that media reform, and by extrapolation, film reform, won't come from the conservative right because "...conservative critics (of the media) in the end, are handcuffed by their allegiance to maintenance of corporate and commercial rule, so they are incapable of providing real explanations for, and real solutions to, the problem they describe" (which is the "liberal media" they have been yapping about since time immemorial). With the exception of Bill O'Reilly who HAS been complaining about the liberal media's bias, more than likely, media reform will have to be launched by a coalition amongst the New Party, the Green Party, the Labor Party, the Democratic Socialists of America, Americans for Democratic Action and U.S. Action. Even Bill O'Reilly, on "fair and balanced" FOX NEWS, serves at the pleasure of his corporate master, NEWS CORP., one of the above mega media corporations. Thus even his voice cannot make big media the ISSUE or he will be canned as fast as Bill Maher was canned from DISNEY when he made what HIS corporate masters considered an inappropriate statement (albeit on a totally different subject).
Ted Turner goes on to say that "Indeed, big media itself was cut down to size in the 1970s, and a period of staggering innovation and growth followed. Breaking up the reconstituted media conglomerates may seem like an impossible task when their grip on the policy-making process in Washington seems so sure. But the public's broad and bipartisan rebellion against the FCC's pro-consolidation decisions suggests something different. Politically, big media may again be on the wrong side of history -- and up against a country unwilling to lose its independents."
Thus the authors of IT'S THE MEDIA STUPID conclude: "Media reform is inexorably intertwined with broader democratic reform. . . . Media reform will be a fundamental building block of a broad crusade for democratic renewal in America."
Ted Turner concludes: "When media companies dominate their markets, it undercuts our democracy. Justice Hugo Black, in a landmark media-ownership case in 1945, wrote: "The First Amendment rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public."
John Cones concludes in THE GREAT AMERICAN MOVIE DEBATE (found at http://www.homevideo.net/FIRM/amdebate.htm): "It is thus critically important that all concerned citizens in our society become involved in this national debate and demand that the free marketplace of ideas principle be firmly re-established in this important communications medium, that control positions in the U.S. film industry be opened to and occupied by a substantially more diverse group, and that the power to determine which movies are produced and released be shared more evenly among all of the diverse groups that make up our multi-cultural society."
* * *
Given the above, as well as countless other studies,(4) the writing is on the wall: It looks like "big media" and the "big media" companies that own the MPAA studio/distributors need to be "busted up." If this breakup does not also include the powerful and dominate MPAA studio/distributors that monopolize most of the distribution of feature motion pictures, the job will not be complete. It will only be half way done because the MPAA studio/distributors also monopolize most of the major talent, financing, state-of-the-art special FX technology and exhibition (not only in theaters, but over the cable system and in video stores). The MPAA studio/distributors are thus critically important because they are to the motion picture media as the New York Times is to the print media: the major opinion leaders that set the tone for what IS considered a politically correct issue to debate in our democratic society, and what IS NOT.
(1) MY BEEF WITH BIG MEDIA full text available at http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2004/0407.turner.html or http://www.jaegerresearchinstitute.org/articles/beef.htm.
(2) WHAT'S REALLY GOING ON IN HOLLYWOOD!, full free on-line book at http://www.homevideo.net/FIRM/whats.htm and other books by John Cones at http://www.mecfilms.com/coneslaw/conesbk.htm.
(3) IT'S THE MEDIA, STUPID is available through http://www.sevenstories.com.
(4) See Media Reform Information Center Links and Resources on Media Reform http://www.corporations.org/media.
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