issue 256 - June 1994
M E D I A - T H E F A C T S
GLOBAL DIGITAL HIGHWAY
When more can mean less
If you believe the techno-babble, we are heading down an
‘information superhighway’, whizzing through ‘cyberspace’ towards a ‘global village’.
But is it making us better informed about the world in which we live?
More outlets fewer hands
Desktop publishing and video technology enables more people to set up their own small production companies. Third World videomaking is a growth area and small groups can more easily produce magazines and newsletters.
In 1945 more than 80 per cent of US media outlets were independent. Today just 23 corporations own more than 80 per cent of the US’s media outlets. And withdrawal of advertising by multinational corporations can make or break a publication, regardless of circulation.
Time Warner formed by a merger of Time Inc. and Warner Communications, is the largest media corporation in the world. Its assets are greater than the combined gross domestic product of Bolivia, Jordan, Nicaragua, Albania, Liberia and Mali. Titles include Time, Life, Fortune and Sports Illustrated with an aggregate worldwide readership exceeding 120 million. It is the second largest cable company in the world and one of the largest book publishers.
News Corp Ltd, controlled by Rupert Murdoch, has more newspaper circulation around the world than any other publisher. Murdoch has two-thirds of all newspaper circulation in Australia, almost half in Aotearoa/New Zealand and a third in the UK. He has the largest satellite television system in Europe and has recently broken into the South and East Asian market. He controls Fox Broadcasting network and 20th Century Fox movie studios, is part-owner of CBS/Fox video and is the world’s largest distributor of videocassettes. 1
Reuters: Since it bought out the remaining shares of the largest television news agency, VisNews, the British-based news agency Reuters has become the main provider of both televised and print news from the developing world. It thus has the power to determine what is foreign news. Newspapers that used to rely on correspondents now depend on Reuters agency reports. Reuters also owns part of the British Independent Television News (ITN) network and Worldwide Television News (WTN). 2
More media less news
The size and outreach of the world’s media is increasing all the time. There are an estimated 35,000 media outlets in the US alone. The round-the-clock news service CNN gets to 110 million viewing households worldwide. 1
But coverage of international news – especially the rich world’s coverage of the Third World – has dwindled:
30 years ago the major Western media had reporters based in most African countries. Today, of the American TV companies, only CNN has a bureau in any of the African countries between the Sahara and South Africa. 2
Between 1988 and 1990 only 5.6 per cent of international news on three US broadcast networks was about Africa. If you exclude South Africa, Ethiopia and Libya the figure was less than one per cent. 2
More ‘freedom’ less autonomy
With the collapse of the Soviet Union there is more press freedom in former Eastern bloc countries and the former communist countries of the South.
But political and corporate links mean less autonomy for journalists and editors. Business interests either openly or covertly set the agenda of what should be reported and how.
The chairperson of Hachette, which publishes Paris Match, sells 30 per cent of all books in France and is a major distributor of newspapers and magazines in Europe and the US, has also been chairperson of Mantra SA, France’s largest manufacturer of armaments and military communications.
General Electric, the tenth largest US corporation and a major defence contractor, owns NBC, one of the top three US TV networks. Since 1941 General Electric has had five convictions for crimes including conspiracy (twice), fraud and tax evasion.
Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s largest media owner, used his friendship with former Italian Prime Minister Bettini Craxi – now disgraced for his mafia connections – to circumvent an Italian law forbidding commercial television networks. Today he has become Prime Minister.1
More technology less equality
With electronic, fibre optic and other developments in communications technology, international networking is made easy and immediate. In theory the villager in Africa can have the same access to information, such as fluctuations in the international price of coffee, as the New York stock-market dealer.
There have been many technological revolutions which promised to bring education to Third World villagers. But even with well-established technologies – radio and television – vast inequalities of access still remain.
In the rich industrialized world there are 1,023 radios and 492 TV sets per 1,000 of population, compared with 175 radios and 59 TVs per 1,000 in developing countries. The US has 814 TVs per 1,000 of the population compared with 0.8 in Burundi. 3
Despite the proliferation of media in Latin America 99 per cent of films shown on Brazilian TV come from North America and even Brazil’s giant TV Globo only comes 301 in the UNESCO list of the 304 major information and communications groupings in the world. 4
Recent GATT free-trade agreements allow companies like Murdoch’s Sky satellite network to swamp the Asian and Indian markets in spite of the prolific efforts of local producers.
In October 1993 the biggest corporate merger in history took place with the $33 billion sale of the cable franchise company TCI – part-owner of CNN – to Bell Atlantic.5
Most of the new fibre-optic technology is currently used for entertainment rather than information, and 40 per cent of that is porn. 5
1 Ben Bagdakian, The Media Monopoly, Beacon Press, Boston 1992.
2 Christopher Patterson, Concentration and Competition among the global television news agencies: implications for coverage of the developing world, prepared for the MacBride Round Table, 1994.
3 UNESCO Statistical Yearbook, 1993.
4 Annabelle Sreberny-Mohammadi, The Global and the Local in International Communication, Edward Arnold, London 1991.
5 Lawrence K Grossman, ‘Reflections on Life Along the Electronic Superhighway’, Media Studies Journal, Winter 1994.