The Big Crush

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
13 March, 2018
Editorial: 183
Fecha de publicación original: 5 octubre, 1999

A job half done is not worth a damn

Will continuous takeovers of the media by big business — a local example of which is present in Telefonica policy — affect the type of information they offer, the quality of their content and the way they deal with the reality they inform on? And, secondly, how will these acquisitions, generally presented under the guise of mega-fusions, such as the case of Viacom and CBS, impact the future of the new media on the Internet? Will the tremendous power accumulated by these media groups mean that they could become the cyberspace sharks of the future? Either way, we are witnessing (and participating in) a very interesting process. While the media in the real world is experiencing unprecedented levels of concentration, that of the digital world continues to expand and occupy new spaces in a colossal process of fragmentation and dispersion. On the one hand, there is the “Big Crush” and, on the other, the “Big Bang”. “Out there” a handful of corporate mega-transnationals rule, while “here on the inside”, they live side by side with the proliferation of personal mini-transnationals. A different kind of journalism is taking shape in each.

At the moment, the media global market is dominated by nine groups: Time Warner, Bertelsmann, General Electric, Disney, Sony, News Corporation, ATT, Viacom and Seagram. When it comes to classifying these groups, it is not just their size that must be taken into consideration but the geographical areas they cover and, above all, the range of their distribution networks. Only two of these companies do not directly produce content (General Electric and ATT) and only three of them are not US-based (Bertelsmann – Germany-, Sony -Japanese- and News Corporation – Australian) although a considerable part of their investment lies in the empire. All of them invest large sums in music, the cinema and television production. It is not at all strange, therefore, that their powerful media continuously predict that the future of communication lies in the world of entertainment. This dictum is so often repeated that we will probably end up believing them, despite environmental problems, the growing role of biotechnology in our society, the scandalous divisions between rich and poor and other issues that keep some of us fairly “entertained”.

Below this seven-headed hydra there are 50 other companies seriously interested in minority markets (related to the former). Amongst these are well-known groups such as Reuters, Elsevier and Dow Jones. Their portfolios–as in the previous group– include book, magazine and newspaper publishers, the recording business and the production and distribution of material for the cinema and terrestrial, cable or satellite TV. These companies fight each other bitterly for the market, until they get to the moment when they sink their teeth into a juicy fusion. In the meantime, a policy of alliances and agreements, to avoid “destabilising” the communications market, predominates. In other words, neo-liberalism rules, but within certain constraints.

So, growing globalisation of the media implies a greater integration of information and communications systems to attain commercial objectives fixed by different markets. The film sector, for example, is controlled by seven corporations, all of whom belong to groups owning news media. Which explains why the release of each new film is accompanied by a great wave of information which, to the unwary or extraterrestrial, must look like a systematic exercise in collective insanity. The front pages of newspapers and their magazine supplements, TV and radio programmes, all inform us of the ups and downs experienced during filming and what actors, directors, producers, lighting experts, special effects people and even studio concierges have to say on the subject.

We get so close to them, so intensely, so intimately, that their hopes and fears, their orgasms and taboos become ours. Almost imperceptibly, our world is reduced to their world. And this all happens so quickly that we hardly have time to discover that the media we get this information from is, in fact, the producer of the film or event in question. The same thing happens to a large extent in the music business, dominated by five big companies, four of them forming part of big transnational organisations owning media chains. These five companies obtain 70% of their profits from outside the US.

Changes in the structure of global media therefore go hand in hand with growing control over the content produced and exploited by these groups, and, at the same time, greater transnational control of distribution and content generation within countries themselves. While in the printed press sector national capital continues to predominate (with an increasing presence of foreign capital as a result of cross investment), in television, on the other hand, the new cable and satellite companies have penetrated so deeply with their wide range of channels and services that they have turned national markets into a kind of Gruyère cheese: through its holes we view Timbuktu as though it were the next town to ours.

Cable companies in the US fight each other to ensure a place on European, Asian and Latin American markets and printed press companies try to diversify in the field to adapt to regional and national markets. Television, with its capacity for imposing its information agenda on the rest of the media (the famous feedback process of TV-printed press-radio-TV …etc., so we end up with the same information everywhere), is like the leading chariot in the arena setting the pace for all the other participants.

Given this panorama, the constant drift towards sensationalism on a global media scale is not surprising. Nor is it strange that investigative journalism (of analysis, accuracy, whatever we might call it) and foreign correspondence, two classical pillars of the media, have suffered considerable cuts over recent years, and by that I don’t just mean economic ones. The scissors have attacked budgets and the editorial policies of the media, reducing the world to what they see through their narrow telescopic vision of global entertainment. The media subjected to the “Big Crush” are making their journalists and readers pay the price of corporate imperatives based on criteria which are drifting further and further away from the local concerns and interests of those they are supposed to be serving. Surviving in the global market is no joke, and we are all paying the price.

Translation: Bridget King