cj#713.3> DEMOCRACY AND CYBERSPACE – part 3

1997-09-22

Richard Moore

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                     DEMOCRACY AND CYBERSPACE

                Copyright 1997 by Richard K. Moore


[part 3]

The mass media: monopolized communications
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Like the Internet, today's mass-media industry is also a global
communications network, and also offers access to seemingly infinite
information.  Beyond these similarities, however, the two could not
be more different. While Internet exchange is non-economic, mass-
media increasingly is fully commercialized; while anyone can publish
on the net, publication access to mass-media is controlled by those
who own it; while the full spectrum of public thinking can be found
on the net, discussion in the mass-media is narrow and systematically
projects the world-view of its owners.

In the mass-media, rather than voluntary contributors, we have
"content owners" and "content producers".  Instead of free mailing-
lists, web-links, and voluntary forwarding agents, we have "content
distributors" - including broadcast networks, cable operators ,
satellite operators, cinema chains, and video rental chains.  And
instead of an audience of participants (netizens), we have
"consumers".

In both networks the information content reflects the interests of
the owners.  With Internet this means that the content is as broad as
society itself.  But with the mass-media, the narrow scope of content
reflects the fact that ownership of mass-media, on a global scale, is
increasingly coming to be concentrated in a clique of large corporate
conglomerates.  The mass-media does not serve discourse, education,
or democracy particularly well - it's designed instead to distribute
corporate-approved products to "consumers", and to manage public
opinion.

The U.S. telecom and media industries have long been privatized, and
hence the corporatized version of mass media is most thoroughly
evolved in the U.S.  It is the U.S. model which, for the most part,
seems destined to become the global norm - partly because the U.S.
provides a precedent microcosm of what are becoming global conditions
(a corporate dominated economy), and partly because the U.S.
effectively promulgates its pro-corporate policies in international
forums.

As state-run broadcasting systems are increasingly privatized under
globalization it is the deep-pockets corporate media operators who
are likely acquire them, thus propagating the U.S. media model
globally, although U.S. operators will by no means be the only buyers
in the market.

The U.S. model is a monopoly model - a "clique of majors" dominates
the industry, just as the Seven-Sisters clique dominates the world
oil market.  "The Nation" (3 June 1996) published a remarkable road-
map of the U.S. news and entertainment industry, graphically
highlighting the collective hegemony of GE, Time-Warner, Disney-Cap-
Cities, and Westinghouse.  These majors are vertically integrated -
they own not only production facilities and content, but also
distribution systems - radio and television broadcast stations,
satellites, cable systems, and cinema chains.

We might think of Time-Warner and Disney as being primarily media
companies, but for GE and Westinghouse, media is clearly a side-line
business.  They are into everything from nuclear power-stations and
jet fighters, to insurance and medical equipment.  Their broadcast
policies reflect not only the profit-motive of their media companies,
but equally the overall interests of the owning conglomerate.  NBC is
not likely, for example, to run an expose of GE nuclear-reactor
safety problems or of corruption involving GE's government contracts.

When you consider the ownership of the mass-media, and the additional
influence of corporate advertisers, it is no surprise that the
content of mass-media - not just news but entertainment as well -
overwhelmingly projects a world view that is friendly to corporate
interests generally.

As globalization proceeds, these four conglomerates - along with
Murdoch and others - will compete to buy up distribution and
production facilities on a worldwide basis.  The clear trend,
following a shakeout period, is toward a global mass-media industry
dominated by a clique of TNC (transnational corporation) "majors".
Globalization of the media industry translates ultimately into
corporate domination of global information flows, and the centralized
management of global public opinion.

Whereas the Internet precedent suggests the potential of cyberspace
to connect citizens with one another on a participatory basis, a
corporate-dominated mass-media industry sees cyberspace primarily as
a product-distribution system and a means of opinion-control.  In
order to assess how cyberspace will in fact be applied, we need to
examine the political context in which cyberspace will evolve - we
need to take a closer look at this thing called "democracy".


[to be continued]
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Posted by Richard K. Moore - •••@••.••• - PO Box 26   Wexford, Ireland
         http://www.iol.ie/~rkmoore/cyberjournal            (USA Citizen)
  * Non-commercial republication encouraged - Please include this sig *
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