Why did the idea of a small rodent running loose throw the 61st largest corporation in America into a panic?
The panicked corporation was The Walt Disney Company (one of the Big Five described in The New Media Monopoly). The little rodent is Mickey Mouse. The image of the mouse is worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year for Disney. But the copyright would expire in 2003, after which anyone and any company could use Mickey’s image without paying Disney the usual license fee it collects from anyone using the little rodent’s image in movies, on T-shirts, headsets, baby shoes, Halloween masks, and millions of other toys.
The result? Disney was a leader in getting federal law changed to extend copyrights. Under the new Sunny Bono Copyright Extension Act of 1998 ( its formal legal name after the singer-Congressman who sponsored the bill) that extended all copyrights for 20 years, leaving the Disney company happy and richer, at least until 2026.
Why did the world’s largest publisher of English-language books (another of the Big Five described in The New Media Monopoly) lie about its past?
The publisher is Bertelsmann, in Germany. It’s one of the 275 largest corporation in the world and is powerful in Germany, as well as in all worldwide publishing. At the end of World War II and the defeat of Hitler, Bertelsmann was asked how they survived the years of the Nazi regime. They answered that they suffered for their anti-Nazism. Many other newspapers and journalists knew otherwise, but Bertelsmann was so powerful that no publisher of any kind within Germany would publish the truth. A German sociologist researched the records and found that, in fact, Bertelsmann had been a favored publisher for Nazi propaganda and mass pamphlets for his elite troops. But the scholar, Hersch Fischler, couldn’t get his work published in Germany. It first appeared in Switzerland and then in the United States. It was a stunning example of the political power of publishing monopolists.
Which of the four major American broadcast networks was established in direct violation of United States law?
Rupert Murdoch’s Fox network (another of the Big Five). Section 310(b) of the United States Communications Act forbids any foreign firm from owning more than 24.9 percent of any United States broadcasting station. Murdoch acquired his United States broadcasting empire for 30 years even though his was a foreign firm. He kept his basic company, News Corporation, in Australia where he received tax breaks. Murdoch has extraordinary private influence with crucial politicians in Congress who gave Murdoch a unique waiver of this U.S. law. Though many other foreign firms had applied for this waiver, Murdoch’s was the first such waiver ever given and none has been given since, . It is a demonstration of a basic thesis in The New Media Monopoly: “Media Power is Political Power.”
The new 7th Edition of this classic media book has completely new and updated chapters that describe the five giant firms that dominate all the American media — newspapers, magazines, books, radio, television, and movies. Two of the giant conglomerates are foreign. The five control most of the news, commentary, broadcasting and other major media seen by the majority of Americans. (The top executives who control what the majority of the American population sees and hears in their mass media could all fit into a telephone booth. Granted it would be a tight fit, but only five men — and they are all men— control it all.)
This tight control by the giant firms has profound political and social consequences. It has been a major factor in the country’s political shift toward the far right, and television’s increasing crudity and violence because such programs are the cheapest to produce. These five conglomerates have newspapers and broadcast stations in cities and towns all over the United States, but local people have no voice in what they see and hear, even though, under law, the American public owns the air waves.
The five giants fight each other for high ratings in radio and TV, but unseen by the average American, they are quietly corporate partners in joint ventures that make them more like a cartel of interlocked companies.
They have used this power to influence Congress and the White House to throw out former regulations that once required them to do some local public service. If you live in a large city, the result is that you and the major organizations in your city can no longer obtain air time for local civic news and commentary as you once could 40 years ago. Duplication and race to the bottom quality have become the rule. The largest radio chain, for example, has more than 1200 local stations but a total of only 200 employees because their programs are canned and people hear the same automated programming in Montana and Miami.
These and other deepening problems in the country’s mass media — along with some remedies — are described in narratives and detail in The New Media Monopoly, by Ben H. Bagdikian.