In the 1960s, Marshall McLuhan promulgated the idea of a new “global village,” a world knit together and transformed by television and other marvels of the electronic age. His popular book, “Understanding Media,” predicted that an information network would envelop the planet, spreading democracy and unity … a “general cosmic consciousness.” But in recent years, information networks are circling the world with messages far from the enlightenment and openness of a “general cosmic consciousness.” A handful of mammoth private organizations, driven by the bottom line, have begun to dominate the world’s mass media. Moreover, they confidently announce that by the 1990s they — five to ten corporate giants — will control most of the world’s important newspapers, magazines, books, broadcast stations, movies, recordings and video cassettes.
According to media scholar Ben Bagdikian, this does not bode well for McLuhan’s “universal understanding.” The lords of the global village have their own political and economic agenda. All resist economic changes that do not support their own financial interests. Together, they exert a homogenizing power of ideas, culture and commerce that affects populations larger than any in history. Neither Caesar nor Hitler, Franklin Roosevelt nor any Pope, has commanded as much power to shape the information on which so many people depend to make decisions about everything from whom to vote for to what to eat.
At this time, the big five media corporations that dominate the fight for the hundreds of millions of minds in the global village are: Time Warner Inc., the world’s largest-media corporation; the German- based Bertelsmann AG, owned by Reinhard Mohn; Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation Ltd., of Australia; Hatchette SA, of France, the world’s largest producer of magazines; and U.S. based Capital Cities/ABC Inc.
While monopolistic power may dominate many other industries, Bagdikian points out that “media giants have two enormous advantages: They control the public image of national leaders who, as a result, fear and favor the media magnates’ political agendas; and they control the information and entertainment that help establish the social, political and cultural attitudes of increasingly larger populations.”
True freedom of information requires three conditions: the opportunity to read and watch anything available; a diversity of sources from which to choose; and media systems that provide access for those who wish to reach their fellow citizens. In democratic countries the first condition is generally met. But the media titans are reducing the scope of the other two everywhere as they take over more and more once-independent companies.
Referring to the 1960 U.N. draft Declaration on Freedom of Information, Bagdikian suggests that it is time for the nations of the world to meet again and make a new Declaration of Freedom of Information, this time establishing antitrust principles that will apply at home as well as across national borders. Otherwise, Bagdikian concludes, the basis for all liberty — freedom of information — is in danger of being polluted by a new mutation of that familiar scourge of the free spirit — centrally controlled information.
SSU CENSORED RESEARCHER: JAMIE BARRETT
SOURCE: THE NATION 72 Fifth Avenue New York, NY 10011
TITLE: “LORDS OF THE GLOBAL VILLAGE
AUTHOR: BEN BAGDIKIAN
COMMENTS: This is the second time that the issue of media monopolies has been cited as the top censored story of the year. In 1987, the same author, Ben Bagdikian, warned that just 29 corporations controlled half or more of the media business in America at the time. Bagdikian’s latest work points out that this is an international problem and a rapidly growing one. When asked whether he felt the subject received sufficient coverage in the mass media last year, Bagdikian said the issue was reported in the business pages as corporate media projects and acquisitions, but not reported as the spread of a global media network in the hands of a few major players. In fact, Bagdikian added, the press reported the spread of media giants into Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union as developments of unrelieved glory. As an aside, readers should be aware that the press often relegates important issues, which should be of general interest, to special sections, such as business or sports, where they don’t reach everyone they should. Finally, it should be noted that while Bagdikian is a judge, as well as source author, he did not vote on his nominations for 1987 or 1989 (making it all the more difficult for them to be selected as the #1 story).