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Book Review: The Media Monopoly By Roland Sheppard
The press is so powerful in its image-making role, it can make a criminal look like he’s the victim and make the victim look like he’s the criminal. This is the press, an irresponsible press. If you aren’t careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressedand loving the people who are doing the oppressing. — Malcolm X, Audubon Ballroom, December 13, 1964
2010 Update: In 1983, 50 corporations controlled the vast majority of all news media in the U.S. At the time, Ben Bagdikian was called “alarmist” for pointing this out in his book, The Media Monopoly. In his 4th edition, published in 1992, he wrote “in the U.S., fewer than two dozen of these extraordinary creatures own and operate 90% of the mass media”— controlling almost all of America’s newspapers, magazines, TV and radio stations, books, records, movies, videos, wire services and photo agencies. He predicted then that eventually this number would fall to about half a dozen companies. This was greeted with skepticism at the time. When the 6th edition of The Media Monopoly was published in 2000, the number had fallen to six. Since then, there have been more mergers and the scope has expanded to include new media like the Internet market. More than 1 in 4 Internet users in the U.S. now log in with AOL Time-Warner, the world’s largest media corporation. — Media Reform Information CenterIn 2004, Bagdikian’s revised and expanded book, The New Media Monopoly, shows that only 5 huge corporations — Time Warner, Disney, Murdoch’s News Corporation, Bertelsmann of Germany, and Viacom (formerly CBS) — now control most of the media industry in the U.S. General Electric’s NBC is a close sixth
Historically, Socialists have always considered the mass media to be one of the instruments of capitalist rule. Most liberals etc. have countered this argument by describing the press as being the “Fourth Estate,” the defenders of a free press and democracy, and independent of the capitalist class.
The following is from the “PREFACE TO THE SIXTH EDITION” to the The Media Monopoly:
With a New Preface on the Internet and Telecommunications Cartels, by Ben H. Bagdikian1 (Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, former editor of the Washington Post, and dean emeritus of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley), (2000) Beacon Press, 25 Beacon St., Boston Mass 02108-2892:
AS THE UNITED STATES ENTERS the twenty-first century, power over the American mass media is flowing to the top with such devouring speed that it exceeds even the accelerated consolidations of the last twenty years. For the first time in U.S. history, the country’s most widespread news, commentary, and daily entertainment are controlled by six firms that are among the world’s largest corporations, two of them foreign. Even with the dramatic entry of the Internet and the cyber world with their uncounted hundreds of new firms, the controlling handful of American and foreign corporations now exceed in their size and communications power anything the world has seen before. Their intricate global interlocks create the force of an international cartel. There are pernicious consequences. While excessive bigness itself is cause for economic anxieties, the worst problems are political and social. The country’s largest media giants have achieved alarming success in writing the media laws and regulations in favor of their own corporations and against the interests of the general public. Their concentrated power permits them to become a larger factor than ever before in socializing each generation with entertainment models of behavior and personal values. The impact on the national political agenda has been devastating, For years, the mainstream news has over dramatized its reporting of congressional and White House debate on the national debt and deficit beyond their intrinsic importance. Politicians raised the issue, but it was seized upon and overblown by the major media–media that politicians use as a bellwether on what issues will get them the most public attention and partisan advantage. During these crucial years, the American economy was undergoing an astonishing phenomenon that the mainstream news left largely unreported or actually glamorized in its infrequent references: the largest transfer of the national wealth in American history from a majority of the population to a small percentage of the country’s wealthiest families.
This is an interesting book reporting on and explaining the consolidation of “The Media Monopoly” that has occurred in the past ten years. It is but another example of the consolidation of wealth, which is natural to capitalism, and which has greatly increased in magnitude in the past “decade of prosperity”. As Bagdikian states in his preamble, During the recent period there has been “the largest transfer of the national wealth in American history from a majority of the population to a small percentage of the country’s wealthiest families.” Or as Karl Marx stated over 100 years ago: “The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.”
Bagdikian does not understand that the consolidation of the “Media Monopoly” is part and parcel of “the largest transfer of the national wealth in American history.”
Basically the consolidation of the mass media industry into a combination of six corporations, has destroyed any claims that the mass media, as the “Fourth Estate,” is defending democracy. These international corporations use the media to act in the interests of its owners and the Capitalist Class as a whole. In this sense, Orwell’s concept of “Big Brother” is becoming reality. Six “Big Brothers” now dispense the news as they see fit. If one “clicks” from news program to news program the same stories are on each network-sometimes at the same time!
The concept of journalist being free to truthfully write about and investigate the news is a farce. During the last period of Liaise Faire capitalism, in the 1860’s,1870’s, and 1880s, John Swainton, who had served as Chief of Staff with the New York Times said:
“There is not one of you who would dare write his honest opinion. The business of Journalism is now to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, fall at the feet of Mammon and sell himself for his daily bread. We are tools, vessels of rich men behind the scenes, we are jumping jacks. They pull the strings; we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are the properties of these men. We are intellectual prostitutes.”
This book is a detailed account of the consolidation of the mass media over the past few decades.
The author fails or refuses to explain that the mass media is the property of the capitalist class and an instrument of that class. The recent consolidations, revealed by this book, have now made this fact abundantly clear. The media monopoly no longer has the “fig leaf” of honesty and journalistic integrity.
For example, one program that always tried to give the impression of “journalistic integrity” was the CBS show 60 Minutes. The current reality of this program was exposed by the movie The Insider. (In that movie the show’s producers rolled over for the tobacco monopoly.) In the past few years, Monsanto has been able to call upon their corporate class brothers to disrupt the publication of books and to prevent broadcast journalists to expose the problems of their genetically engineered bioproducts. It is now close to impossible to get the truth published by the main stream publishing houses. Investigative reporters, authors and scientists have to go to small publishing houses that cannot reach large sections of the population.
The “War on Terrorism” is also the demonstration of manufactured news. If you click from TV channel to TV channel, you see the same news. The Orwellian concepts that “War is Peace,””Freedom is Slavery,” and “Ignorance is Strength,” are the messages of the day, as world imperialism terrorizes oppressed nations with bombs, cluster bombs, and radioactivity, and attacks upon the Bill of Rights to “Defend Democracy.” Last years “Freedom Fighters” are “Today’s Terrorists” and possibly next year’s “Freedom Fighters” once again!