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Too Few Control Too Much Information for the Rest of Us

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I wrote this and it was published in the Los Angeles Times as an op-ed article over seven years ago. Think "Wall Street Journal" as you read it. NOTHING good has happened since regarding media diversity.

January 3, 2000

Merger mania puts a few moguls in a position of deciding what we know about our culture and our politicians.

The expansion of News Corp. and Fox, the mergers of Disney and ABC and of Time Warner and Turner Broadcasting and the pending merger of CBS with Viacom are not in the best interests of the citizens of the United States.

If it is not allowed for an entity to own a newspaper and a radio station in the same market, why should these giant media companies be allowed to speak with as many voices as they do in so many situations in the United States? It doesn't make sense. And the fact is, the greater the power of these organizations, the greater their predisposition to abuse.

Ask yourself this: Is it a good idea for Rupert Murdoch to control the Fox Network, 15 TV stations, Fox News, Fox Sports, Fox Family Channel, 20th Century Fox, Fox Animation, Fox Searchlight, the New York Post, the Times of London, HarperCollins, the Weekly Standard, Mushroom Records and much more?

Is it a good idea for Time Warner Chairman Gerald Levin to control the WB Network, HBO, TNT, TBS, CNN, CNNfn, CNNsi, Cinemax, Warner Bros., New Line Cinema, Hanna-Barbera, CastleRock, Time, People, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, 28 other magazines, Warner Books, Little Brown, Warner Bros. Records, Atlantic, Elektra, Sire, Rhino, Time Warner Cable and much more?

Is it a good idea for Disney's Michael Eisner to control ABC-TV and ABC Radio, 10 TV and 30 radio stations, ESPN, Disney Channel, A&E, E!, Lifetime, Miramax, Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Hollywood Pictures, Hyperion Press, ESPN Magazine, Walt Disney Records, Lyric Street Records, the Go Network of Internet sites and much more?

Is it a good idea for CBS' Sumner Redstone to control Infinity Broadcasting (163 stations), 34 TV stations, UPN, MTV, TNN, Nickelodeon, Showtime, Paramount Pictures, Paramount TV, Spelling Television, Simon & Schuster, Blockbuster videos, SportsLine and much more?

Prior to the mergers and consolidations, there were significant numbers of theatrical and television production and distribution companies financed in a variety of ways. They are virtually all gone today.
The stand-alone companies of significance are Seagram/Universal, MGM, Sony/Columbia Pictures, Pearson (a British-based media company) and Carsey-Warner. Even the powerful Motion Picture Assn. of America has gone silent in its criticism of network power in the media; its most powerful members now control network outlets. Another voice silenced.

Sure, a few people--primarily, CBS' Bill Paley, NBC's David Sarnoff and ABC's Leonard Goldenson--controlled a lot during the 20th century. If they supported the Korean War, this was reflected in their broadcasts. If they opposed the war in Vietnam, their coverage reflected that opposition. And their comedy and drama programs, which survive today in reruns, still provide people outside the United States with a picture of what our society is.

Yet the media moguls of the mid-20th century have been supplanted by the media tyrants of the 21st century, who control the vast majority of what we see in all forms of television, what we learn about our world, what news we hear, what documentaries are made and, most important, have power over our electoral process by exposing or not exposing candidates to the electorate in a manner never envisioned by the Federal Communications Commission, the Justice Department or any of the agencies that ostensibly attempt to regulate information monopolies.

Forget campaign finance reform. The truth is, there is no more pervasive influence in our future elections than the likes of Redstone/Viacom/CBS, Levin/Time-Warner/Turner, Eisner/Disney/ABC, Murdoch/News Corp./Fox--not to mention other major media conglomerates.

Our nation could speak with many voices, but regrettably, it doesn't. Scary, isn't it?