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Big Media Applaud Big Media Merger


Norman Solomon

When

the story about Viacom and CBS broke a few days ago, news accounts quickly

depicted a match made in corporate heaven — at more than $37 billion, the

largest media merger in history. With the public kept outside the frame, it was

a rosy picture.

"Analysts

hailed the deal as a good fit between two complementary companies," the

Associated Press reported flatly. The news service went on to quote "a

media analyst" who proclaimed: "It’s a good deal for everybody."

"Everybody"?

Well, everybody who counts in the mass-media calculus. For instance, the media

analyst quoted by AP was from the PaineWebber investment firm. "You need to

be big," Chris Dixon explained. "You need to have a global

presence."

Dixon

showed up again the next morning in the lead article of The New York Times,

along with other high-finance strategists. A woman at Merrill Lynch agreed with

his upbeat view of the Viacom-CBS combo. So did a guy from ING Baring: "You

can literally pick an advertiser’s needs and market that advertiser across all

the demographic profiles, from Nickelodeon with the youngest consumers to CBS

with some of the oldest consumers."

In

sync with the prevalent media spin, the Times devoted plenty of ink to assessing

advertiser needs and demographic profiles. But for the crucial first day of

Times coverage, foes of the Viacom-CBS consolidation did not get a word in

edgewise.

The

Washington Post, meanwhile, provided a similar ode to the latest and greatest

media merger, pausing just long enough for a few dissonant notes from media

critic Mark Crispin Miller: "The implications of these mergers for

journalism and the arts are enormous. It seems to me that this is, by any

definition, an undemocratic development. The media system in a democracy should

not be inordinately dominated by a few very powerful interests."

Amen.

But

overall, big media outlets — getting bigger all the time — offered only narrow

and cheery perspectives on the meaning of the humongous merger.

Hours

after the announcement, the nation’s most influential TV news show aired its

unwitting parody of corporate-friendly coverage. "The NewsHour With Jim

Lehrer" featured an interview with two guests. It was hard to tell the

financial analyst apart from the journalist, Ken Auletta.

Barely

able to stifle a smirk in response to Lehrer’s beachball questions, Auletta kept

repeating that "bigger is better." No one bothered to mention that

Auletta — currently a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine — can hardly be

expected to voice strong objections to the steady march of media monopolization.

After all, the owner of The New Yorker is an expanding media conglomerate,

Advance Publications, which holds an array of glossy magazines including Vogue,

Glamour and Self. Generally, people in glass skyscrapers are uninclined to throw

stones.

News

accounts keep focusing on the market-share preoccupations of investors and top

managers. For good measure, coverage of mergers and buyouts is now routinely

filled with various permutations of metaphors that liken financial wheeling and

dealing to intimate human relations.

"The

$37.3 billion deal joins not just two enormous media companies," a New York

Times article declared the other day, "but two oversized corporate

personalities in a marriage that was consummated after a two-year flirtation and

a brief but painstakingly intense two-week prenuptial discussion." Ugh. (Is

there a sublimation crisis in American journalism?)

Perhaps

worst of all is the evasive tone that now pervades so many news stories about

media consolidation. "The merger impulse," one Times article concluded

last Wednesday, "is driven by the belief that at a time of increasing

uncertainty in the media business, there is an advantage in owning both the

programming and the distribution networks."

Translation:

With the federal government serving more and more as enabler rather than

regulator of rapacious conglomerates, the media business knows few bounds.

Today,

some huge corporations are sitting on the windpipe of the First Amendment.

Meanwhile, many journalists — and the public at large — are gasping for the

oxygen of public discourse that allows democracy to breathe.

With

rare exceptions, news outlets have covered the Viacom-CBS deal as a business

story. But more than anything else, it’s a story with dire implications for

possibilities of democratic media as the 21st century gets underway.

 

Norman

Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His latest book is "The Habits of

Highly Deceptive Media."

 

 

 

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