And Then There Were Two

It's staggering to think that on a local level almost every single form of mass media, from newspapers to radio and TV stations, can now be legally owned by one company.
Photo: Courtesy Crisishq.com

Once again I'm treading over same familiar territory but only because things have gotten worse. A couple of issues ago (which translates into a couple of years ago!) I wrote an article about the evils of TV and all that gibberish. Basically I was stating that fewer and fewer corporations controlled Americans main source for news, thereby influencing how the majority of Americans view society. Nothing novel but who could have imagined how much worse it would get in such a short period of time.

I'm sure all of you have read, seen, heard etc. about all the mega-mergers of the past few years. At no point in capitalistic history, including the famous Standard Oil trust busting days, have so few companies dominated huge industries. Giants like NationsBank, MCI, AT&T have swallowed up other giant corporations (Bank Of America, Sprint, TCI etc.) to form megaliths the likes of which we have never seen. Microsoft has bought out, crippled, or used extortion to destroy every single competitor and all we have is an ineffective trust busting case against them. Standard Oil was not even close to the dominance Microsoft exerts over the computer industry (arguably the most important industry). I would love to read the report that MCI has to file with the FCC saying how their buying Sprint is good for consumers. But you know what? It will get passed, as all the others have been. This is a mere reflection of the depth and the scope of the control corporations exert over government.

Still these pale in comparison to the consolidation of the television and radio industry. In my last essay I spoke of how one company could control 35% of the television viewership. The laws, written in the 50's and 60's, seemed feasible as there were only 3 stations. Still, to have the most influential medium controlled by 3 companies is scary enough. Of course in a day and age such as this, when government agencies bend over backward to do whatever corporations want it's surprising these laws haven't been changed. Oh wait, they have.

As we speak a corporation named Clear Channel Radio has just purchased AMFM. AMFM had already purchased the last large station group outside of CBS radio, (yes CBS also controls a huge portion of radio stations) Jacor. So that means that Clear Channel controls over 900 radio stations across the country. I bet you didn't think there were 900 stations. Well there aren't a whole lot more commercially viable radio stations outside the grip of Clear Channel and CBS. Now the laws initially enacted by the FCC was that no company could own more than one AM and one FM station in any given city. So you figure that there are about 200 larger cities in America, so according to the FCC you should only own 400 stations total (still scary by the way). Is this law in effect anymore? No, Clear Channel will be forced to sell little more than 100 stations. That means they will control over 800 stations, twice the amount the FCC originally intended. That means the rock station you call up to request songs, the rap, country and Top 40 stations you laugh at, the news/talk you listen to are all owned by the same company. The same company is programming for and profiting off of the majority of America. I don't have to explain the possibilities (censored news, payola for breaking acts, less variety etc.)

Now you might be saying, "Well who cares if the same company is controlling almost every single thing I hear on the radio". Well how about TV? CBS and Viacom have just announced their merger. Viacom controls MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Channel among other things. We all know what CBS controls. Under current legislation, Viacom would be forced to sell off many of its properties. Of course these are the same properties that made Viacom an attractive purchase in the first place. So do you think CBS would buy Viacom only to have to sell its star channels? Exactly, they know something we don't. Hey wait!, we do know because a day after the deal was announced Sen. John McCain (the one running for president) introduced a bill to ease FCC restrictions so they could merge entirely. Can anyone say bought and sold?

As if this wasn't proof enough the NBC/PAX TV deal seals it. Under the current 35% market cap, NBC can only own a minority interest in PAX TV but according to the trade magazines, there is a clause in the contract for NBC to buy them out entirely by the year 2002. Seems like an odd year to pick but hey maybe they know something we don't. Hey wait!, a bill has been introduced to raise the market cap to 50%. Imagine that. So now the government wants 50% of all television controlled by one company. Last essay I whined about there being only 3 corporations shaping our opinions, well now there's a possibility that there may only be two. Now General Electric (NBC, PAX, MSNBC) and Disney (ABC, ESPN) and CBS (Viacom, MTV, VH1, NICK) are going to fight it out over who can control what we see.

It is incredible to grasp the complete and total control corporations are allowed to wield in a "free" nation. I mean to have it so out there in broad daylight, mocking us with their arrogance. Can you imagine that if you broke the law, you could just have it rewritten? I liked it better when they were behind the scenes, pulling strings from afar. At least then you could feel like that was the reason we didn't rise up against them. But now there is no illusion about who controls this country. It's not the government you should be pissed at. There is no government. There are only puppets reading speeches written by some corporate spin doctor. There is no way the current spree of consolidation does not violate all our anti-monopoly laws but where is the action against them? Why aren't the MCI's, AT&T's (a second time!), CBS's, NBC's of the world being stopped? Truly we have lost what little defense we had against corporations running the entire country. Truly we have lost our country.

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