I recently read two books from the 1990’s, The Secret Empire by Janet Lowe and Rich Media, Poor Democracy by Robert McChesney. Lowe’s book shows how a small group of mega-multi-national corporations are coming to rule the world, while McChesney’s book points out how a similar small group of corporations are gaining control of the airwaves and the media as a whole.
In both books, the authors see rather clearly where the trends are heading and how disturbing they are, but in neither case are they able to do much more than warn of the dangers. Sure, in both cases, the authors throw out suggestions on what we can do to limit the power of such large and powerful cabals, but in light of what has been transpiring in the last two-and-a-half decades since, such suggestions seem almost laughably naïve.
Lowe, a business journalist, includes some troubling quotes by corporate insiders. Unysis Corporation Chairman Michael Blumenthal said in 1990, “I wouldn’t say the nation-state is dead, but the sovereignty has been greatly circumscribed…even for a country as large as the United States.” Kazuo Inamori, founder of Kyocera Corp., goes further: “Maintaining order has become a pretext for protecting existing interests, and the interests of the public are low on the list of priorities. Control by officialdom over the past hundred-odd years has, by now, lost virtually all of its legitimacy.”
This is pretty much an admission from one in a position to know that government of a given country does not work for the people of that country but for business interests. Not necessarily the business interests of that country, either, but whatever business interests require something from said country. And as Blumenthal said, that includes the United States.
Things have not gotten better since then, only worse. Consider, then, that all that has transpired in the last two decades has been done not for the welfare of the people of our country but for business interests that may or may not be located in the United States. Every war that has been waged, every trade deal that has been signed, every sanction we have put in place against another nation has been at the behest of big business.
McChesney, too, sees the power of transnational corporations. He also saw that these tremendously powerful businesses would naturally be interested in owning the media that is allegedly supposed to keep the populace informed.
One way for big business to limit the information people see is by threatening the media, as it did in the case of Chiquita Brands International. “The Cincinatti Enquirer ran an eighteen-page…report that chronicled in detail the unethical and illegal business practices of Chiquita overseas.” Chiquita responded by suing The Enquirer, which was forced to pay Chiquita $10 million.
There are few newspapers that can afford to take on such a huge corporation in court. And the few that can? Well, they are the ones owned by one of the multi-national corporations that would never permit them to say anything that would place them or the system in which they operate in a bad light. The transnational corporations have figured this out and have been busy buying up the media. And thus, our minds.
If U.S. media dare not speak out against the transnationals, what hope does the media in other countries have? Says McChesney, “In many ways the emerging global media system is an extension of the U.S. system, and its culture shares many of he attributes of the U.S. hypercommercial media system. This makes sense, as the firms that dominate U.S. media also dominate the global system…”
A pretty bleak picture painted by rather dissimilar authors over two decades ago. Both saw clearly the way the trend was going, but I doubt either one of them could have truly appreciated just how bad it could get. The power of transnational corporations has expanded, thanks to digital technology, not merely on a macro level but into the micro level, controlling even local governments and local housing markets. Meanwhile, print media is all but dead, thanks to the rise of the internet. Local papers today are owned mostly by Gannett.
Early on, many people hoped and predicted that the internet would become a free market of ideas, but even as early as 1999, McChesney saw that a few companies would come to own the portals through which we use the internet, thus squeezing people towards the sights they wish them to visit. But it is doubtful that even he was able to predict the power that companies like Facebook and Google now wield to shape our perception of the world. Again, not in the United States alone but around the world. There has never been another time where there was such homogeneity of thought.
Lowe and McChesney were able to see rather clearly the trends and the dangers that were developing in the 1990’s, but it is understandable that their concern did not cause them to shout at the top of their lungs about it. It was, after all, the mere beginning of something new emerging. With the fall of the Soviet Union, much was changing and we were all adjusting, wondering where things would go from there.
It’s decades later now, the worrisome trends have metastasized beyond anyone’s belief. There is little excuse not to yell in a shrill voice now. The trap has been sprung, the hour late. This is a problem that will not be solved by subtle or proven methods. We’re already living in the dystopia others have warned us about.