With the upcoming decision on whether or not to let Murdoch buy the LA Times and Chicago Tribune, the FCC, press and mediactive citizens should pay attention to this story. If you don’t think Murdoch intended to replicate the level of corruption acieved in the UK, read on: Why the US media ignored Murdoch’s brazen bid to hijack the presidency | Carl Bernstein | Comment is free | The Guardian.
Frontline’s documentary, Murdoch’s Scandal [video link]
In case you missed it, the UK has been embroiled in an ongoing media scuttlebutt that was sparked by the News of the World scandal. The newspaper’s outrageous and unethical violation of people’s privacy and other alleged criminal activities led to a government inquiry by Lord Justice Leveson, whose report was released yesterday.
The Guardian, which was instrumental in uncovering many of the News of the World’s activities (see the Frontline documentary above), has this excellent overview of the report.
For those who don’t understand the nature and context of the problem, it should be noted that since the days of Thatcher and Reagan there has been an increasing normalization of neoliberal policies which eases government restrictions on media ownership. This has led to increased monopolization of media markets and, not surprisingly, to greater corruption. In the UK Rupert Murdoch’s media empire has been allowed to dominated the newspaper market, giving him the overwhelming power to influence and pervert the political process. In the US we have experienced such an extreme consolidation of media companies that now only a handful of multinationals dominate the majority of media.
The lesson should be clear: private media companies should not be allowed to consolidate and monopolize media markets, and hence the media ecosystem. They become a parasitic invader species that transforms the public sphere into to a monoculture incapable of a resilient response to climate change. It leads to less diversity of views and to a dominant worldview that favors corporate interests. In such an environment we get less news about environmental problems and more gossip and infotainment about celebrities like the Kardashians. Not surprisingly, it was a nonprofit newspaper, The Guardian, that broke the Murdoch scandal.
Of grave concern is Murdoch’s increasing influence in the US media market. Not only does his company News Inc. own one of the most atrocious and scandalous TV news networks in the world, Fox News, but he is gobbling up major newspapers like The Wall St. Journal. He now is making a bid to purchase the LA Times and Chicago Tribune and it looks like Obama’s FCC is ready to let him have at it. Thankfully FreePress.org is waging a campaign to stop this outrageous giveaway (click here to sign their petition).
It is increasingly clear that media monopolization leads to unethical media practices because these massive companies are more accountable to their commercial interests than the public good. We need to genuinely support nonprofit media ventures. One way to do that is to donate to public media, such as a local public media radio station, or to nonprofit activist organizations that are seeking to change the media system so that it is more just and diverse. FreePress.org has these handy guides for taking action.
PS For additional info, The Telegraph’s Leveson Report: the key points at a glance.
Last week, an anonymous group started plastering Black and Latino neighborhoods in Ohio and Wisconsin with billboards implying that people can be prosecuted for trying to vote. Despite widespread protests, Clear Channel has refused to take the billboards down, claiming that they aren’t responsible for the content.
I’ve always known that Clear Channel is a scummy company–after 9/11 and Bush was prepping war plans, they instructed their stations to censor anti-war artists. Clear Channel is one of the biggest outdoor advertisers in the US and is the largest owner of radio stations. But here’s a new twist: did you know that it is owned by Bain Capital, Romney’s “former” investment company? I won’t go as far to call this a conspiracy, but it comes pretty darn close. Once again monopoly media is closely aligned with anti-democratic interests.
For more about efforts to halt this voter suppression campaign, visit Color of Change.
If you can’t see this, please go to the link here.
Universal Pictures’s Lorax can’t get any love. First, grade schoolers attacked the film studio for a lack of environmental materials on its Web site, then Fox’s right-wing host Lou Dobbs accused it of conspiring to undermine capitalism, and now environmentalists are up in arms about the merchandise and commercial tie-ins associated with the film (including disposable diapers, Double Tree hotels and IHOP). As to be expected, Dobbs’s rant is rather juvenile compared to the sensible response of kids faced with living in Fox’s demented universe. As for the tie-ins, read on.
The latest outrage is the emergence of a “Truffula tree friendly” SUV ad for a Mazda (posted above).
In response, the best quip comes from Mediate: “Having The Lorax shill for a sport utility vehicle is like using clips of Requiem For A Dream to sell diet pills, it goes completely against the spirit of the source material!” Appropriately, Jason Bittel offered this little Dr. Seuss-esque ditty:
A Lorax-branded combustion engine? I mean, seriously?
Not a hydrogen? Not an electric?
Not even a Thneed-sponsored cross-breed?
Whoever is in charge of branding
For the Lorax’s mula-making machine –
Have you read the book you’re hijacking?
Did you misinterpret what it means?
Sometimes the media gods do us a big favor by giving us a clear example of how corporate media is occupied by Wall Street. In this case we are presented with two different covers of the same issue of Time Magazine that ran domestically and abroad. Reading between the lines it shows how scared the media elites are of pushing the idea of revolution at home. And just as the disconnection between the US State Department’s support for the Arab Spring overseas versus the various crackdowns against the Occupy movement throughout the US is not casual, no doubt the editors at Time are nervous about the idea of revolution in Egypt further inspiring the locals. This makes the alternate title, “Why anxiety is good for you,” that much more interesting. Surely their editorial choice reflects a great deal of anxiety.
Hmmm. This EcoAd campaign is a new effort by EcoMedia,* a project owned by CBS (yes, the mega media corporation CBS). The way it works is that partners advertising on CBS can get a little synthetic leaf logo on their ad to indicate they are participating in something vaguely green. A portion of the ad sale goes towards some community sustainability project.
In the language of EcoMedia’s Website:
“The bottom line: EcoMedia’s sustainable media model, recognizable to consumers as our EcoAd, is a classic win-win. It’s advertising that does more for companies, more for communities, and more for the environment.”
But what exactly do they mean by “sustainable media”? Let’s look at an example:
If you are at all versed in the problem of global climate change, it’s a real stretch to see on what planet this constitutes ecological advertising. Fundamentally, the only real sustainable media is media that challenges the idea of growth and neo-classical capitalism. I can’t imagine how this kind of consumerism and sustainability are compatible. Nor do I see mega-corporations like CBS really interested in undermining the economic model that makes them rich.
This would be utterly comical if it were not so dangerous. Car culture is the leading reason why we have climate change. Branding straight-up planet destroying consumerism as eco-friendly is so unconscious it boarders on insanity. Never mind. It is insane.
I poked around the Website to see if they had any standards or criteria for the kinds of ads or companies they would do business with. No such luck. No definition of sustainability, no explanation of ethics.
So if BP wanted to run an EcoAd, would EcoMedia do it?
I don’t want to be a pure negationist by asserting that no good can come from this. I’m sure the organizations who get funding from the program deserve it. But from the standpoint of someone trying advocate real sustainable media that promotes cultural change, this kind work really poisons the water (sorry for the cliched metaphor, but it’s appropriate). In particular, by muddying the concept of sustainability it makes it more confusing to advocate for real ecological media to counter the pro-growth consumer consciousness that is at the root of the CBS’ business model. Not only do we have to undo the damage of normal car ads, now we have to deal with this mind frak. Fortunately, this campaign is so clearly lame, hopefully even half-witted, TV colonized zombies can see through this deception.
If you feel compelled to do something about this foolishness, you can click over to the Center for Environmental Health to participate in a campaign trying to stop this nonsense.
In a time when information abundance and zero transaction costs should translate as lower prices, eMusic defies the laws of Internet gravity to increase prices so as to appease the monopoly tactics of major labels. This is rather disappointing. I’ve been an eMusic subscriber for more than five years. I have moved from $19.00 for 90 tracks a month to a miserly 50 tracks for the same price. But in order to satisfy Sony, Warner and Universal, they have restructured to a monthly pricing plan that has basically increased the average track cost from .40¢ to .49¢ for older music, and then charges 69¢, 79¢, and 89¢ for major label fair. Meanwhile, as a result of the new system, eMusic lost the Beggers Group, which includes one of my favorite labels, Matador. The net result? In exchange for Kiss, we lose Spoon. Pretty dumb considering that eMusic was a boutique service that specialized in indy music.
Unfortunately, this goes in the opposite direction of where we should be heading. Internet competition did drive down the cost of many CDs, but not from the majors. The majors continue to gouge customers with exorbitant retail pricing, which has driven customers to piracy. There is no reason a CD should be more than $6. So when we get to the plus $15 range, who should bother? Smart artists are hip to the emergent culture of their customers and have gone to appeal directly to their fans to allow them to volunteer their price (i.e. Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, to name a few big acts). (Here is an interesting pricing analysis from the view of an artist on eMusic, and this take on the company’s economics.)
It may be that in the background eMusic is feeling the heat from streaming services for mobile devices. Since I’m not a “smart” phone user, I don’t know how this works exactly, but I believe that the paradigm is for people to pay a monthly fee for access to the streaming cloud. I’m still old school enough that I prefer to own my tracks and have them on my hard drive. I’ve been burned by Net services when they go out of business. When I pay for something I also like the illusion of a tangible object. Moreover, I liked eMusic because it was not what the major’s offered. What is to keep me there now?
Throwing fans under the bus for growth is yet another example of capitalism’s dumb rationality, in particular the logic of media companies that are no longer satisfied with stability and slow growth. It used to be if a newspaper netted 5% growth during the year, that was dandy. The steroid economy will no longer tolerate such incremental stats, and must zoom along at 20-30% every year. That puts a big demand on people, resources and especially the Earth. This kind of insanity really has to stop. Why eMusic caved into this logic is unclear. But inhabiting Manhattan’s economic reality bubble may have something to do with it. I’ve certainly had enough of it. Such behavior definitely makes me appreciate piracy much more.
The majors are a dying dinosaur. Rather than show vision and leadership, those guiding the eMusic ship have gone way off course. They have headed the Siren’s call, and may end up sinking the operation. Judging from the multiple complaints on their Facebook page and rants from Indy music Websites, I can’t imagine what calculous eMusic is using. Maybe they are guessing that raising prices will cover the loss of loyal customers. But in an era of affective economics, the incalculable value of loyalty, trust and goodwill is something very hard to come by. Sorry eMusic, it was fun while it lasted.
Wooster Collective posted these images from CNN’s ad campaign in Turkey, “Stories with the full background.” Aesthetically this is by far one of my favorite marketing stunts (see my book cover to understand why). The thing is, why don’t they run ads like this in the US? I think the answer is self-evident. The US press is generally chckenshit to be too honest at home, but will present a different face abroad in order to appease the generally oppositional view of the US overseas. This kind of two-faced approach is a disservice to the American public and also points to the ethically crippled state of corporate media.
OK, so I’m a little pissed about the World Cup.
I don’t subscribe to satellite or private service in Italy, and only have access to public TV, for which I pay a 100 Euro annual tax. RAI (pubic TV) is only broadcasting one World Cup game a day, which means I have missed many matches, including last night’s crucial game between Ghana and Uruguay. The Net in Italy is now thoroughly filtered so I cannot access live streams from the BBC or ESPN. This is all because the big media monopolies have agreed to gate off large chunks of media, essentially privatizing a global event that arguable belongs in the planetary public sphere.
Incidentally, who pays to train the national teams competing in the World Cup? We do! This is like corporations patenting inventions from public universities.
Burlusconi and Murdoch are big jerks!
The Mitochondrial Vertigo blog is one of the few places I’ve found that is focusing attention on the scary takedown of a.aaaarg.org. In case you missed out, a.aaaarg.org was a grassroots file sharing site for academics (formal and informal), so blokes like myself could post PDFs of important chapters for our students to read (and to share with others) without going through the hassle of copyright clearance, which is increasingly a huge DRM finger up the arse. Not surprisingly, it’s megatextbook publisher McMillian/McGraw-Hill–the Monsanto of academics–who took a page from the music industry to shut down this Temporary Autonomous Zone of exchange. Ironically, every bit of technology and science that enables Macmillan/McGraw-Hill to be a scholastic monopoly was probably developed in open learning environments. No doubt Macmillan/McGraw-Hill would like to run the educational Web like its own plantation, despite the free and open access labor at the foundation of its distribution platform.
Anyhow, there is a larger drama at play, which is about the war of e-readers and who has the right to read what and under what conditions. As Mitochondrial Vertigo argues, we should pay attention to the battle between Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad, both of which I find to be rather scary devices when it come to books and copyright. This is part of a bigger war over the future of the Net, which every concerned citizen should get caught up on by reading Jonathan Zittrain’s The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It (you can download the book for free here).
Here’s a choice quote from Mitochondrial Vertigo:
“The minds of the future lie within the Kindle v iPad wars, the habits of our thinking, our cups of coffee, and our licking of the page turning. The nice thing about technology, it always does MORE, it lets not only the cat, but its fleas and its dreams out of the bag. As Macmillan attacks file sharing in order to secure as much leverage as it can in its battle with Kindle and Amazon, the frayed hem edge of our complexity is showing. We must also reflect upon the fact that ‘We demand more content, faster (cheaper)!’ is what is behind many of our complaints when file-sharing is restricted, a demand worth inspecting.”
On this last point (demanding more faster and cheaper), it may be the case we want all our information/entertainment to be free and that has depended on a trade-off to allow ad creep into the vestibules of our lives. The alternative, DRM, makes pimping my eyeballs the better deal. Selling out screenspace to advertising is most certainly a Faustian pact, and it’s naive to assume that everything should be free just because we want it to be that way. On the other hand, as an old school punk, I feel like a barter economy keeps our culture honest. I’m never going to make money on my books anyways. What’s important is performance–what Radiohead and other rock bands have finally figured out as they watched their corporate overlords sue fans to recoup discretionary cocaine funds.
The money thing will have to be worked out, one way or another. Meanwhile, as long as I can show up and teach, and at the end of the day go home to eat a fresh meal and sleep in a warm bed, I’m happy. But for that we need public education–another seemingly lost cause these days. Quite honestly, my own profession is collapsing like all others, and it’s hard for me to foresee who will pay for education when growing food will increasingly become a priority. As a brown thumb, I wonder if being an intellectual will be relevant in the future. I can only hope.
Though I think the tone of the following article is a little stark, I do think the notion of a “truth emergency” is valid. In particular, I don’t think people understand how intertwined media, finance and the military are.
A global dominance agenda also includes penetration into the boardrooms of the corporate media in the US. In 2006 only 118 people comprise the membership on the boards of director of the ten big media giants. These 118 individuals in turn sit on the corporate boards of 288 national and international corporations. Four of the top ten media corporations in the major defense contractors on their boards of directors, including:
William Kennard: New York Times, Carlyle Group
Douglas Warner III, GE (NBC), Bechtel
John Bryson: Disney (ABC), Boeing
Alwyn Lewis: Disney (ABC), Halliburton
Douglas McCorkindale: Gannett, Lockheed-Martin.
Given an interlocked media network, it is safe to say that big media in the United States effectively represent the interests of corporate America. The media elite, a key component of the Higher Circle Policy Elite in the US, are the watchdogs of acceptable ideological messages, the controllers of news and information content, and the decision makers regarding media resources.
Portals (Yahoo, Google, AOL, etc.) have enabled guided Internet experiences, but Disney now takes it one step further. Its new Netpal notebook computer is entirely a computerized Disney environment. From ZDNet:
Developed with parents and kids in mind, the Disney Netpal has a reinforced mechanical design and, naturally, a Disney user interface. In addition to “more than 40 robust parental control options,” the Netpal sports an 8.9-in. LCD display, Wi-Fi, Windows XP Home and kid-friendly software featuring Disney characters.
I suspect these designer-brand net computers will be the wave of the future. We’ll move from generalized branded operating systems, such as Apple, Microsoft or Google, to more specifically designed interfaces that reflect particular styles and brand loyalty. Just as the skateboard industry has a variety of designer and custom boards, I foresee a slew of custom net systems. But I imagine that for now they will be mostly from high end (that is, well-endowed) corporate media brands (I’m sure Warner Brothers has one in the works), because the front-end design aspect must be prohibitive.
Is this Disney’s answer to the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) project and its XO Laptop? Probably not, but it’s instructive to compare the two systems. Though the XO has its own custom operating system, it is open source, a guaruntee required by founder Nicholas Negroponte. Consider the 5 guiding principles of OLPC:
1. Child ownership
2. Low ages. Both hardware and software are designed for elementary school children ages 6–12.
5. Free and open source
Also compare the high-minded mission of the OLPC with Disney. Guess which one cites radical educators like John Dewey and Paulo Freire as the inspiration for its interface? Perhaps only the Magic Kingdom’s dungeon guards would recognize these names.
It should be said this is not a clear case of good vs. evil. OLPC has its detractors and there is one particularly disturbing anecdote concerning a comment made (before the OLPC program was developed) by Negroponte during a radio interview with neo-Luddite Chellis Glendenning. When his utopian vision of the digital world was challenged by the fact that computer hardware production was causing babies to be born without brains in Mexico, he said it didn’t matter. The toxic waste of computer manufacturing and disposal remains a blind-spot enabled by its outsourcing from the core to the periphery and from lack of sufficient dialog about the problem.
PS Interesting how Disney’s deliberately amateurish Netpal intro video is intended to make it feel personal and endearing as opposed to cold and flashy. Where’s the magic?
Written by a former Economic Hit Man, John Perkins‘ The Secret History of the American Empire takes you on an inside journey of “corporatocracy” empire building. The book is fairly simplistic when it comes to history, but it confers with all the more academic sources I’ve read about the subject. What is great about the book is that makes the material accessible to a wider audience, especially concerning how important financial institutions (such as the World Bank and IMF) are for keeping the system in place. The book has a really good definition of empire, and also offers several alternative approaches to counteract what may seem like an inevitable process of control, but actually is highly dependent on our ignorance and complicity through consumer habits. If we are going to have an ethical approach to media production and analysis, we must acknowledge that the US government acts and engages in the world as an empire. To deny this fact is to distort the nature of how corporate media filters the world.
H/T to Scud for recommending the book.
Despite increasingly complex digital-media offerings and hundreds of channels, we see the diversity of media ownership shrinking, along with the diversity of voices that are broadcast. People are fighting back, organizing, creating alternatives and holding the corporate media giants accountable. The corporations are pushing back. With life and death, war and peace, at stake, hinging on an informed and engaged populace, the stakes have never been higher, the media never more important.
So begins Amy Goodman’s recent editorial and wrap-up of the National Conference for Media Reform. I was initially hooked by the article’s title, “This Way to Better Media,” but found the story rather disappointing. Let me qualify my critique by stating that media reform is necessary and I applaud the work of both Goodman and Freepress who hosted the conference. My letdown was with a lack of stated principles that would lead to better media. To be specific, media reformers allow their argument to be framed by corporate media– they are a response, an opposition, an offset to mass media’s foreground. I was hoping to read about some kind of paradigm shift that was behind the bourgeoning movement, but I’m at a loss for seeing what that might be.
More newspapers? Though I appreciate the necessity of investigative reporting that newspapers occasionally invest in, I find most newspapers an incredibly boring waste of paper that are instruments of propaganda. It takes me about five minutes to read a typical paper, including the highly vaunted New York Times. To be fair, I’m a right-brainer, so I’m more attracted to the graphics and headlines, but really there is rarely much to read any more, and the Times in particular seems to be covering more and more other media. They have become class A media navel gazers.
More TV news? See above.
More radio? Ditto.
“Better media” is not a utopia. It is here. We are doing it, you are reading and clicking through it right now. The one threat to this revolution is net neutrality, and on that one issue alone the media reform movement has salvaged its legacy. And thank god they/we are fighting for it tooth and nail. But as long as we keep thinking in terms of the industrial media model by focusing our energy on reforming a centralized kind of media, we’ll remain trapped within a reality tunnel that doesn’t offer a fundamental paradigm shift that comes through practice and open networks that model the kind of sustainable social change that we really need. Such a shift would not be to revert to more traditional media, but to promote a kind of ethics that restructure our global outlook. For a way to a better media, these are some qualities to consider:
- Community-produced media (“glocalized” media)/citizen journalism
- Open source media
- Hackable media
- Open networks
- Authentic and credible sources
- Right Livelihood
In practice, both Democracy Now! and Freepress are examples of these principles in action, yet notice that much of what they say is just a negative reaction (such as the video above). For an example of something a little more proactive, check out Global Voices.
It’s not secret that PR and media need each other, but propaganda is more subtle and insidious.
Corporate owners have a vested interest in keeping courageous and intelligent reporting a journalism-school dream, especially when it comes to the Iraq war. After all, General Electric doesn’t want its reporters at MSNBC to question the war while it’s busy churning out Apache helicopters. It turns out that everyone — from the military analysts espousing Pentagon rhetoric to the corporate news owners to the government itself — have shared interests in leading the American people to war.
To consolidate their control, Big Media owners like Rupert Murdoch have cozied up to Washington, deploying legions of lobbyists and lawyers to craft U.S. communications policy, while doling out millions of dollars in campaign contributions to squelch any challenge from elected officials.
Hence, propaganda, misinformation and government spin become the daily news norm — so normal, in fact, that many in the news punditocracy are having trouble understanding what all the hoopla over propaganda is about. Isn’t this the way news is “made”?
The landscape of the media industry is rapidly changing, with increasing consolidation and convergence between companies. Researchers and journalists have a need to track these changes, yet no interactive visualization tool is freely accessible online to enable this.
Check out this very cool tool to visualization corporate media interrelations.
Three factors, in particular, are responsible for the current surge: intensifying competition for oil between the older industrial powers and rising economic dynamos like China and India; the inability of the global energy industry to expand supplies to keep pace with growing demand; and intensifying instability in the major oil-producing areas.
File this one under FIY. Though tangential to the topic of media per se, the energy crisis is closely tied to media in a structural way. Indirectly, media are funded by petrodollars because the majority of advertising is for cars, thus the industry that builds and depends on a cheap oil economy uses commercial media as a propaganda machine for the dreams that automobiles would deliver us. Anyhow, I thought the article above was a good, simplified perspective on where the oil economy is taking us.