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Think Again - World Media

Think Again - World Media

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“A Few Big Companies AreTaking Over the World’s Media”
content and distribution, but on a global scale it isstill a minor presence—that is, minor as a percent-age of global media revenue, global audience, andin the number of markets it covers.Media companies have indeed grown over thepast 15 years, but this growth should be under-stood in context. Developed economies have grown,so expanding enterprises are often simply standingstill in relative terms. Or their growth looks lessweighty. For example, measured by revenue, Gan-nett was the largest U.S. newspaper publisher in1986, its sales accounting for 3.4 percent of allmedia revenue that year. In 1997, it accounted forless than 2 percent of total media revenue. Helpedby major acquisitions, Gannett’s revenue had actu-ally increased by 69 percent, but the U.S. economyhad grown 86 percent. The media industry itself hadgrown 188 percent, making a “bigger” Gannettsmaller in relative terms. Similar examples abound.ers to Matsushita (Japan), who sold to Seagram’s(Canada), who sold to Vivendi (France). Vivendihas already announced that it will divest some majormedia assets, including textbook publisherHoughton-Mifflin. Bertelsmann also has had diffi-culty maintaining all the parts of its global enterprise:It recently fired its top executive and is planning toshed its online bookstore. There is an ebb as well asa flow among even the largest media companies.The notion of the rise of a handful of all-pow-erful transnational media giants is also vastly over-stated. Some media companies own propertiesinternationally or provide some content across bor-ders (for example, Vivendi’s Canal+distributesmovies internationally), but no large media con-glomerate owns newspapers, book publishers, radiostations, cable companies, or television licenses inall the major world markets. News Corp. comesclosest to being a global media enterprise in both
20
Foreign Policy
THINK  AGAIN
No.
Much of the debate on media structure istoo black-and-white. A merger of Time Inc. withWarner Communications and then with AmericaOnline dominates headlines, but the incrementalgrowth of smaller companies from the bottom doesnot. Breakups and divestitures do not generallyreceive front-page treatment, nor do the arrivaland rapid growth of new players or the shrinkageof once influential players.In the United States, today’s top 50 largestmedia companies account for little more of totalmedia revenue than did the companies that madeup the top 50 in 1986.
cbs
Inc., for example, wasthen the largest media company in the UnitedStates. In the 1990s, it sold off its magazines,divested its book publishing, and was not evenamong the 10 largest U.S. media companies by thetime it agreed to be acquired by Viacom, which wasa second tier player in 1986. Conversely, Bertels-mann, though a major player in Germany in 1986,was barely visible in the United States. By 1997, itwas the third largest player in the United States,where it owns book publisher Random House.Companies such as Amazon.com, Books-A-Mil-lion, Comcast, and C-Net were nowhere to befound on a list of the largest media companies in1980. Others, such as Allied Artists, Macmillan,and Playboy Enterprises, either folded or grew soslowly as to fall out of the top ranks.Indeed, media merger activity is more like rear-ranging the furniture: In the past 15 years,
mca
with its Universal Pictures was sold by its U.S. own-
By Benjamin Compaine
GLOBALMEDIA 
Big media barons are routinely accused of dominating markets,dumbing down the news to plump up the bottom line, and forcing U.S.content on world audiences. But these companies are not as big, bad,dominant, or American as critics claim. And company size is largely irrel-evant to many of the problems facing today’s Fourth Estate.
Benjamin Compaine is a research consultant at the Massa-chusetts Institute of Technology’s Program on Internet and Tele-coms Convergence and coauthor of 
Who Owns the Media?Competition and Concentration in the Mass Media Industry
 ,3d ed. (Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000).
No.
Long before liberalization of ownership in tel-evision in the 1980s, critics around the world wereobsessed by the reach of U.S. programming, whichcultural elites often considered too mass market and tooinfused with American cultural values. However, inmost of the world, decisions of what programmingto buy traditionally lay in the hands of managers whoworked for government-owned or government-con-trolled broadcasters. Then, as now, no nation’s mediacompanies could require a programmer to buy theirofferings or force consumers to watch them. As the mar-ket becomes more competitive, with content providerssuch as Canal+and the
bbc
marketing their productsglobally, it is even more important that media enter-prises offer programming that people want to watch.While Viacom, Disney, and
aol
Time Warner areU.S. owned, many non-U.S.-owned companies dom-inate the roster of the largest media groups: NewsCorp. (Australia), Bertelsmann (Germany), Reed-Elsevier (Britain/Netherlands), Vivendi and Lagadere-Hachette (France), and Sony Corp. (Japan).The pervasiveness of a handful of media companieslooks even less relevant when one looks at mediaownership across countries. The United Nations’“Human Development Report 2002” examined own-ership of the five largest newspaper and broadcastenterprises in 97 countries. It found that 29 percent of the world’s largest newspapers are state owned andanother 57 percent are family owned. Only 8 percentare owned by employees or the public. For radio sta-tions, 72 percent are state owned and 24 percent fam-ily owned. For television stations, 60 percent are stateowned, 34 percent family owned. These data suggestthere is little foreign direct investment in the media sec-tors of most countries.News media can tap wire services from around theglobe such as Reuters, Agence France-Presse, the Asso-ciated Press, Kyodo News, Xinhua News Agency, andItar-Tass.
tv
news editors can use video feeds fromsources as diverse as U.S.-based
cnn
to the Qatar-basedAl Jazeera. The variety and ownership of 
tv
contentin general has substantially increased—a reality mediacritics ignore. From two state-owned channels in manyEuropean countries and from three U.S. networks plusthe Public Broadcasting Service, there are nowdozens, often hundreds, of video options viaterrestrial, cable, and satellite transmission, not tomention the offline variety of videocassettes and
dvd
sand the online availability of music and movies. In addi-tion, book and magazine publishing continues to berobust worldwide. Encouraged by relatively low start-up costs, new publishers are popping up constantly.
November
|
December
2002
21
“U.S. Companies Dominate the Media”
 
22
Foreign Policy
 A bright red herring.
When exactly wasthis golden age of hard-hitting journalism? One mightcall to mind brief periods: the muckrakers in the early20th century or Watergate reporting in the 1970s. Butacross countries and centuries, journalism typically hasnot been “hard-hitting.” With more news outlets andcompetition today, there is a greater range of journal-ism than was typical in the past. Further, a 2000 com-parison of 186 countries by Freedom House, a non-profit devoted to promoting democracy, suggests thatpress independence, including journalists’ freedomfrom economic influence, remained high in all but twomembers (Mexico and Turkey) of the Organisationfor Economic Co-operation and Development, whereglobal media’s markets are concentrated.Also underlying the complaint that news has been“dumbed down” is an assumption that the mediaought to be providing a big dose of policy-relevantcontent. Japan’s dominant public broadcaster,
nhk
,does so, yet is Japan a more vibrant democracy as aresult? More to the point, with so many media out-lets today, readers and viewers can get more and bet-ter news from more diverse perspectives, if that iswhat they want. Or they can avoid it altogether. Thealternative is to limit the number of outlets and imposecontent requirements on those remaining.The third problem with this notion of corpora-tions killing journalism is that it assumes ownershipmatters. In the old days of media moguls it may have:William Randolph Hearst, William Loeb, and RobertMcCormick were attracted to the media because theyeach had political agendas, which permeated theirnewspapers. Nearly a century before Italian mediaowner Silvio Berlusconi rose to the top of Italian poli-tics, Hearst, whose newspapers dominated in the Unit-ed States, was elected to the U.S. Congress and harboredpresidential aspirations. But Hearst’s dual roles did notaffect U.S. politics or democracy in any lasting way. Thejury is still out on the effect of Berlusconi’s dual roles.Corporate-owned newspapers may actually pro-vide better products than those that are family owned:Research suggests that large, chain-owned newspapersdevote more space to editorial material than papersowned by small firms. In many parts of South Ameri-ca, where regulation has restricted or prevented cor-porate ownership, family-run enterprises have oftenbeen closely identified with ideological biases or evenwith using political influence to benefit other business-es. Brazilian media enterprise Globo, owned by thepolitically involved Marinho family, encompasses a
tv
network, radio, cable, and magazines. Yet Globo nolonger opposes recent moves to liberalize Brazilianmedia ownership because then it could gain access todesirable foreign investment. As Latin American mediashift from family-owned, partisan media to corporations,observes Latin American media scholar Silvio Wais-bord, the media become less the “public avenues for themany ambitions of their owners,” and their coverage of government corruption “is more likely to be informedby marketing calculations and the professional aspira-tions of reporters.” This trade-off may not be bad.Global media will not necessarily introduceaggressive journalism in places where press freedomhas traditionally been constricted. For instance,News Corp. was criticized for dropping
bbc
newsprogramming from Star
tv
presumably to mollifyChinese leaders in the mid-1990s. Yet satellitebroadcaster Phoenix
tv
(in which News Corp.’sStar
tv
maintains a 37.6 percent stake, alongsidethat of the local Chinese owners) sometimes push-es the envelope in China, as when it reported on theelection of Chen Shui-bian as president in Taiwan.
[
Think Again
]
“Corporate Ownership Is Killing Hard-Hitting Journalism”“Global Media Drown Out Local Content”
 Absolutely not.
Most media—like poli-tics—are inherently local. Global firms peddle whol-ly homogeneous content across markets at their peril.Thus,
mtv
in Brazil plays a mix of music videos andother programming determined by local producers,even though it shares a recognizable format with
mtv
stations elsewhere. News Corp.’s newspapers in theUnited Kingdom look and read differently from those
Today,over 1,110InternationalMonetaryFund economistsare at work analyzing theeconomic and financial factorsthat will determine futureglobal trends.Because their projections will have an impacton the decisions made by theIMF and its member countries,their research must be based onthe latest facts and figures,andthe sharpest insights.Theresults of this unique research effort are available through IMFpublications,respected the world over for their quality andbroad coverage.Now,with asubscription to the WorldEconomic Outlook,you canshare in these forecasts andstudies—as they are published.
 World Economic Outlook includes analyses of increasingly globalized trade and capital markets
Interest rates.Exchangemarkets.Trade balances.Savings,investments,and debt.Commodity prices.Economicpolicies.So many factorsinfluence the world economy that it’s often difficult to get aclear perspective of what’sahead.And yet,having justsuch a perspective is absolutely  vital to making well-informeddecisions today that will bestserve your interests tomorrow.
comprehensive assessment of economic prospects andpolicies prepared twice a year by the staff of the IMF
SEPTEMBER 2002 WORLD ECONOMIC OUTLOOK SEPTEMBER 2002 WORLD ECONOMIC OUTLOOK 
International Monetary Fund 
Publication ServicesBox WEOFP02S700 19th Street, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20431 U.S.A.Telephone: (202) 623-7430Telefax: (202) 623-7201E-mail: publications@imf.org
Prepaid orders may be mailed, phoned, faxed or e-mailed. Please include AMEX, Visa, or MasterCard number, expiration date, and signature on all orders.
Before you makedecisions,let theInternational Monetary Fund’s top economistsexplain financial and economic developmentsthat could have a profound impact on  your interests.
The World Economic Outlook represents a uniqueinternational exercise ininformation-gathering andanalysis performed by theInternational Monetary Fundstaff to guide key initiativesand to serve the IMF’smember countries.
Scenarios and projections
The World EconomicOutlook,published at leasttwice a year,in English,French,Spanish,and Arabic,offers a comprehensivepicture of the internationaleconomic situation andprospects for the future.
Information used in top-level decision making worldwide
 With its analyses backed by theexpertise and resources of theIMF’s over 1,100 economists,the World Economic Outlook is a uniquely authoritativereference in the field.
 An authoritativereference you’ll usethroughout the year 
Today,even small economicfluctuations can trigger major financial swings.It’s vital tohave the latest perspective on what’s happening—and where it could lead in thecoming months and years.The World EconomicOutlookbrings you that per-spective,giving you analysis,forecasts,and figures you’lluse all year long.
 
24
Foreign Policy
[
Think Again
]
in the United States. When Star
tv
, an Asian sub-sidiary of News Corp., began broadcasting satellite tel-evision into India, few tuned in to
Dallas
and
The Bold and the Beautiful 
dubbed in Hindi. The network onlysucceeded in India once it hired an executive withexperience in Indian programming to create Indiansoap operas and when an Indian production housetook over news and current affairs programming.Often viewed as a negative, consolidation mayhave considerable social benefits. It took the deeppockets of News Corp. to create and sustain along-awaited fourth broadcast network in theUnited States. And the 1990 merger in the Unit-ed Kingdom of Sky Channel and
bsb
created aviable television competitor from two money-los-ing satellite services.
“The Internet Has Leveled the Playing Field”
 Yes.
Or more accurately, it’s helping to level the ter-rain because it is a relatively low-cost conduit for allcontent providers. As the old adage goes, “Freedomof the press is guaranteed only to those who ownone.” Make no mistake: an activist with a dial-upInternet connection and 10 megabytes of Web serv-er space cannot easily challenge Disney for audi-ences. But an individual or a small group can reachthe whole world and, with a little work and lessmoney, can actually find an audience.Worldwide, an estimated 581 million people wereonline by 2002, more than one third of whom livedoutside North America and Europe. Yet the Internetis in its infancy. The number of users is still growingand will continue to expand to the literate populationas access costs decrease.Once online, Internet users have access to thou-sands of information providers. Some are the sameold players—Disney with its stable of cartoon icons,Infinity with its familiar music and talk-radio broad-casting, and old government-run stations still oper-ating in much of the world. But these coexist withnewer, Internet-only options such as those found atRealguide.com, which links to 2,500 real-time audiostreams from around the world, or NetRadio, whichoutdraws many traditional stations. These Internet-only “broadcasters” have not had to invest in gov-ernment-sanctioned licenses and generally have nolimits on their speech.In countries where governments strictly controlprint and broadcast media, governments also can tryto restrict Internet access, as China does. But some maychoose not to do so: In Malaysia, the governmentpledged not to censor the Internet to promote its ver-sion of Silicon Valley to foreign investors. As a conse-quence, Malaysian cyberspace media are free of therestrictions their print and broadcast brethren face[see “Mahathir’s Paradox,” page 100].
“Proliferating Media OutletsBalkanize Public Opinion”
No.
The flip side of concerns that media concen-tration has limited available information is the con-cern that technology has made it possible to accessso many voices that people in democratic societies canand will seek only information that supports theirprejudices. A fragmented public, tuning in only toselect cable channels or specific Web sites, could thuswall itself off from healthy public debate.Recent U.S. studies show that as users gainexperience with the Internet, they use it not toreplace other sources of information but for morepractical applications. They perform work-relatedtasks, make purchases and other financial trans-actions, write e-mail messages, and seek informa-tion that is important to their everyday lives.Although news is low on the list of its uses, theInternet functions in much the same way as oldernews media: offering opportunities for both those

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