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Denegration of News to the Level of Entertainment

Corporate Ownership Of Mass Media Degrades News To Level Of Entertainment

A Massachusetts School of Law Interview,
Dean Lawrence Velvel, Host

The U.S. mass media "is controlled by a handful of very large companies" such as General Electric, Disney, Westinghouse, CBS and Fox that "are under very strong pressure to make a lot of money" and do so by degrading news to the level of entertainment for which there is a broader audience, a noted authority on corporate operations said.

Corporate owners of mass media are providing "very little coverage of politics and world events," said Lee Drutman, communication director of the Washington-based non-profit Citizen Works and co-author with Charlie Cray of the new book "The People's Business: Controlling Corporations and Restructuring Democracy" (Berrett-Koehler).

What the public gets today is "all sort of entertainment news, news-you-can-use, silly stories about plastic surgery that are very easy and cheap to produce (designed) to get people excited about products you can buy," Drutman said. He made his comments on the program, "What The Media Doesn't Tell You," sponsored by the Massachusetts School of Law(MSL) at Andover and broadcast globally over the World Radio Network.

Asked by host Dean Lawrence Velvel of MSL whether corporations have a broader responsibility "than to make the maximum amount of money for their shareholders," Drutman replied they do not. "If you're a corporate manager you're under intense pressure from Wall Street to keep growing, so you've got to figure out, 'What am I going to do?' and sometimes you do things that you shouldn't do otherwise, or you're given a boatload of stock options and you have this $10 million prize if you get the stock up a little more if you can move a lot of jobs overseas or cut back on health care benefits to employees or reduce emissions scrubbing if it is costing too much."

Drutman said, though, he detects "a palpable shift" in public opinion as "people are getting fed up with the greed of corporations," and asserted the challenge is to build "broad support (for corporate reform)" by reducing the clout of corporations, for example, in elections, through public funding of elections. "You see a growing number of politicians backing a bill in the Senate for public funding of elections," he said.

The author pointed out corporations dominate Congress by setting up political action committees to funnel money into elections; by hiring private lobbyists to represent them; by backing trade associations to front for their industries; by pushing legislation to make it harder for the public to hold corporations accountable for wrong-doing; by repetitive issues advertising on television; and by supporting think tanks to come up with studies in line with corporate thinking.

"Corporations even fund professors at various universities, academics who might be friendly to a particular cause and giving them a little money to work on that, sort of enabling any research, any sort of white papers and reports that might be friendly to the corporation," Drutman said.

"Usually, you can find some academic to support your position and this is what ExxonMobil did with climate change," he pointed out. "Ninety-eight to ninety-nine percent of scientists said climate change is real and it has happened. ExxonMobil found one or two percent of scientists who said, 'No, it's not,' and they funded them like gangbusters."

Drutman observed that, although corporations are chartered by State governments, it is unheard of for them to revoke their charters even for the most egregious legal violations. "If you say that Wal-Mart is accountable to the government of some state, people look at you with incredulity. They say, 'What do you mean? It's a free market, man.'"

The author said European and Asian corporations tend to be structured differently from their American counterparts and thus conduct themselves more in the public interest. "In Germany, you'll find the workers sit on the board of directors and the company is also run by and for its workers, and that's very common in European, socialist-leaning states where there is much more of a sense that the company has an obligation to its workers and to the communities around it."

Drutman said this spirit exists in Japanese and other Asian corporations that operate beyond the narrow interest of stakeholders. "You talk to people from Europe and they're much happier, they have much more of a sense of stability, they feel less ill at ease than people in American companies."

He went on to assert, "We could trade off a little economic growth for more shared responsibility and shared prosperity. Why do we need to be growing at four percent a year? The whole idea that economic growth is the goal of any economy is something that's really taken off in America in the last half decade and you can go back to President Franklin Roosevelt when he said in 1932 the problem is not really to grow the economy but to make the economy more equal."


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