Reporting the world through conglomerate-colored glasses – large media companies

Reporting the world through conglomerate-colored glasses – large media companies – Column

J. Bonasia

Most people realize that the ABC television network (and news department) is owned by Disney/Capital Cities, NBC by General Electric, CBS by Westinghouse, and CNN by Times-Warner. But one would never know these facts by watching the nightly news.

The problem of corporate mergers does not appear on the national policy agenda. Few news programs, radio talk shows, or newspaper editorials debate the dangers of increased media concenration. So even if it’s no secret that our primary perceptions of the world are filtered through the cloudy lenses of international entertainment, appliance, and weapons superconglomerates, this is not perceived as a problem to be solved by well informed citizens in a representative democracy. Perhaps it is because we are not that well informed after all.

A fine example of this filtering effect occurred in connection with congressional approval of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the Judicial action that followed, striking down certain of the law’s censorship provisions. This may be the most far reaching piece of legislation signed in our lifetime, a law that literally defines the infrastructure of our nation’s seemingly limitless telecommunications future. But if pundits and citizens concerned themselves with the bill at all–and most didn’t–they debated the much ballyhooed v-chip in the context of its ability to keep certain material from children watching television.

All told, the v-chip comprises only a negligible portion of the law, but that was what the media moguls wanted us to focus on–the decency issues–and so we did. The news strung us out on sensationalistic stories about on line debauchery and Internet sex and graphic violence instead of the more significant realities of financial bonanzas and regulatory giveaways to the already massive entertainment, media, and telecommunications combines.

Along similar lines, important stories about white collar swindles are buried deep inside the newspaper, if reported at all, while the front page–and radio and TV news–is obsessed with lowly neighborhood hoodlums. Might this also have to do with corporate control of these media outlets?

The real dirt is often placed on an inside page of the newspaper business section to avoid notoriety, unless it is just too outrageous and sleazy, like the tobacco executives who allegedly spiked cigarettes with nicotine or covered up the known carcinogenic effects of their products. In such extreme cases, the corporate criminals make the front page but, otherwise, you just don’t read or hear about day-to-day corporate dealings unless you dig.

One might ask why current debate on welfare reform rarely touches upon corporate welfare. Consider that, in 1995, the federal government paid $7.6 billion in subsidies to defense companies alone to help sell their weapons abroad. That’s $7.6 billion in taxpayer handouts in one year to enable private conglomerates like Lockheed Martin and McDonnell Douglas to peddle their spaceage weaponry for big bucks to smaller, warring countries. That money could have bought a lot of textbooks for disadvantaged students or provided housing for thousands of low income citizens. Instead, we invested it in a few American companies that profit from the blowing up of thousands of people overseas.

This is the national information subterfuge at work. It means rarely telling citizens where their tax money is really going. It means distracting them with notions that their taxes are being sucked up by welfare recipients, foreign aid, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

We don’t broach the subject of corporate control as we should. We seem to regard it as taboo, for some reason. If anything, the topic causes a mere blip on the national agenda before we divert our attention back to kinder, gentler issues–like seances hosted by the First Lady, the latest risque cover of People magazine, or the most recent Michael Jackson scandal.

As our world becomes racked with subtle technologies and an ever more cannibalistic economy, Americans are experiencing a transformation in the way we perceive society and, thus, perceive our own lives. We are bombarded with obvious corporate messages–in advertisements, commercials, and the like. Must they invade the rest of our world as well?

J. Bonasia is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Memphis Flyer, and the Alternet Index, among many others.

COPYRIGHT 1997 American Humanist Association

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