The drive for profits, coupled with the collapse of the Federal Communications Commission in 1985, paved the way for the specter of an international information cartel. Not surprisingly, the information cartel did not report widely on this aspect of last year’s media merger mania.
Herbert Schiller, internationally renown media critic, warned that a “new international information order is being constructed. … Taking advantage of the pro-profit, anti-union, social-accountability-be-damned climate created by the Reagan Administration,” Schiller said that “media owners and other resource holders are maneuvering freely in the cultural and information field.”
Schiller pointed out that the FCC, historically a weak defender of the quality of the nation’s information, has abandoned all considerations of the public interest — now the number of TV and radio stations that a license holder may acquire has been nearly doubled; the traditional obligations of station owners to serve the public’s information needs have either been eliminated or weakened severely; standards limiting the number of commercials that may be run each hour have been relaxed; the requirement that programming logs be kept has been eliminated; children’s programming guidelines have been ignored; and license renewals for stations have become virtually automatic.
Reagan’s laissez faire climate touched off a frenzy of activity in media properties: some of the media firms bought, sold, bartered, or merged include American Broadcasting Companies, Capital Cities Communications, Metromedia, Prentice-Hall, The New Yorker, KTLA-TV Los Angeles, The Tribune Company; the year ended with the awesome $6.3 billion RCA/NBC takeover by General Electric.
The GE-RCA merger especially worries consumer advocate Ralph Nader: “The big now get bigger by buying each other, rather than by making and selling better products,” he says. “This is the worst takeover yet, because it’s one conglomerate taking over another conglomerate.”
Nader raises the threat of censorship resulting from conglomerate self-interest. “Self-censorship is alive and well in the U.S. media,” he says. “What you’ll hear from people in the news business is ‘Nobody called me and put me in handcuffs and said I couldn’t do a story.’ I say, ‘They don’t need to. You put the handcuffs on yourself.’ The level of self-censorship due to conglomerate ownership and bottom-line mentality in the broadcast media is increasing greatly. Even if they do the tough topics, they don’t really tackle them. They don’t come to any conclusions.
It is no surprise that the network news documentary, once the source of electronic muckraking, is the latest victim of conglomerate bottomline buckraking.
THE NATION, 6/8/85, “Behind the Media Merger Movement,” by Herbert Schiller; WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, 12/23/85, “For Big Brother, It Was a Very Good Year,” by Tom Shales, p 51.