Creating people's geographies
By Danny Schechter, MediaChannel
New York, New York: You just know this happens. A group of media mavens in suits sit around a big table to come up with new ways to get us to pay for stuff we already get for free. The water people figured it out, and in some cases even bottle water from municipal systems while packaging it as something else. In another instance, a brilliant entrepreneur, took a stone, called it his “pet rock” and sold millions as a novelty.
But what’s happened in television makes all the scams we know about pale in comparison.
The airwaves, as we know, belong to all of us, but thanks to regulations shaped by big industries, they were allocated (ie. handed out) FOR FREE to big commercial enterprises who then used their clout to monopolize the marketplace and dominate the spectrum.
There are many crime shows on TV, but few if any ever deal with TV itself and how our broadcasting system was hijacked for the greater glory and ever escalating profits of a handful of moguls and their “brands.”
CABLE WAS FIRST
They did it first with cable which was conceived as a Community Antenna system (CATV) to help viewers get better reception. Franchises were handed out to the highest bidder in city after city by companies juiced their bids with healthy political contributions.
Suddenly we were bombarded with tons of choices but without many distinctive new voices. It became largely a market-driven recycling operation aimed at key demographics. Public TV watched as its nature programs and historical docs were cloned and spun off by specialized commercial outlets. Home shopping became a vogue and recycled news a commodity. There was soon more on the air but less to watch as Bruce Springsteen sang in “57 Channels/Nothing’s On.” Now there are 500 channels with very little worth watching.
They said they created or transmitted new channels to give the public more to watch—but actually it fragmented the audience and enabled them to get paid two ways—with fees per subscriber and advertising. The only “payback” to the public were public access channels with offerings that remain poorly produced and promoted.
Today, the cable giants want to erode and end what few public interest obligations they have.
And we are now paying more as they say less. The price for watching started climbing with more high priced salaries for executives and profits for shareholders. Soon 6 companies soon dominated the whole cable world making deals back and forth “in strategic alliances” with each other as their cost structures role and their audiences shrunk. They also went global. Chinese viewers will soon get their own version of America’s Top Model.
Soon there was competition from satellite and broadband. The squeeze was on. Time Warner now plans to spin off its cable operations to generate more money for one of the BIG media companies that concentrated. Today it seems to be disintegrating.
COSTS ARE UP
At the same time, the costs for these gigantic multi-channel monstrosities rose with the charges passed on to you and me, the consumers, who began paying through the nose, $100 or more a month. Common Cause just released a report showing how lobbying costs designed to further corrupt our already corrupted Congress are factored into the fees we end up shelling out.
It’s abusive, predatory—and, alas, perfectly legal. It is also a crime but no TV shows portray avaricious media execs and their often duplicitous “business models.” If the public knew more, it would be outraged. Hence, it is kept in the dark—and increasingly in debt to pay off their fancy big screens, “entertainment centers,” and gadgets galore.
AND THE WEB IS NEXT
Today, there is a new fight underway to keep the Internet free. Remember, the underlying technology was created not by Al Gore but with taxpayer funding and Defense Department know how—first as a way for academic scientists to communicate with each other, and then in a few years, became a global medium touching the lives of billions.
The user community is reaches and the market it serves is immense. No wonder a handful of big monopolies are scheming and dreaming up ways to colonize the virtual world the way the Not So Great Powers first colonized what we now call “the developing world.”
They waged wars for resources, and now their successors and assignees are waging a new one targeting the Internet. The protagonists are not just countries but giant telecom and media corporations who want our space to be theirs, and theirs alone. They want to charge us for using it even more than they do.
In this world of competing brands, value is an often inflated and inexplicable slab of mystery meat. Remember the first wave of websites in which investment bankers known for demanding “due diligence” shoveled tens of millions into the hands of 27 year olds with business plans scrawled on the back of an envelope.
Everyone was going to get rich—and some did, until that bubble burst. Today, more sober financial heads just scratch their beanies about what happened them while mumbling “what were we thinking?”
But it’s happening again. Murdoch gobbled up My Space in an effort to commercialize the personal creativity of those millions and their “friends” who are posting away like demons. Google paid over a billion for You Tube with plans to do the same.
WHAT TO DO?
So what do we as consumers that care—and who finance this system.—do about it?
Most of us tune into media in the ether of unconsciousness, unaware of how the programs they watch program their own values. Some have become TV and web addicts who can never get enough. For others it’s just a game.
But for THEM, it’s a big business and that slowly but surely undermining or democracy. We can’t just become modern luddites to stop the machine.
But we have to find a way to fight for better media—to push for reform and build unified campaigns for more responsible journalism. That’s why we created MediaChannel.org
But our survival is no more guaranteed than the survival of the media giants in a time of volatility and media crimes in the name of giving the people what they want.
News Dissector Danny Schechter edits and blogs for MediaChannel.org. He recently authored “The Death of Media and the Fight for Democracy” (Melville House).