Let’s Pretend That We Have Media Diversity in Our Country

by Norman Horowitz

“People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public…” — Adam Smith, 1776

Walt Disney, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal Pictures, and Warner Brothers are all members of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). As an executive of Columbia Pictures and MGM/UA, I attended meetings of the MPAA.

In my opinion, the MPAA solely serves the interests of their major members. It is an association of gigantic companies who abuse the system as much as possible in order to maintain their market share and profitability without seriously violating the law — and, when possible, attempt to change the laws to their benefit. Were you to attend one of their meetings and mention something like their responsibility of serving in the “public interest, convenience, and necessity,” they would need to send out to have the phrase explained to them.  

Many years ago, I watched as the MPAA President, the most charming Jack Valenti, tried to raise campaign financing from the studios for members of Congress who supported “our cause.”

Richard M. Nixon demonstrated the power of a “pissed-off President” when he instituted the Prime Time Access, Financial Interest, and Syndication Rules. To me, this was a clear “don’t mess with me” message not to be critical of minor issues like our war in Vietnam.

Today, the MPAA companies have far too much to lose by annoying the Congress or the Administration. As a result, they give us smiling news anchors like Brian Williams, who gives America nothing substantive in the news and virtually no documentaries. And heaven forbid they be critical of the Administration or the Congress!

Many years ago, during a Vice Presidential debate with Senator Quayle, Senator Bentsen said to Quayle: “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy, I knew Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

Well, I knew Walter Cronkite, and I can safely say that Brian Williams is no Walter Cronkite. The “times” are certainly different, but when Cronkite told America that we were losing the war in Vietnam, America believed him.

Nowadays, the feds have allowed these providers of entertainment, news, and information to merge into media powerhouses and to meet in a trade association like the MPAA. In these meetings, do you think they sit around and discuss how they can better serve the public — or perhaps, as is more likely, how they can enhance their “reach” and profitability?

A friend who requested anonymity sent me the following note. The subjects he raises are, for the most part, ignored by the big media players:

The difference between the effective coherence of the tea party and the disorganized Wall Street Protest lies in what happened after it started. The tea party starts with a woman in Minnesota who was angry about the financial situation of the government. The money provided to the nascent movement enabled it to bring in a number of other disaffected groups of a conservative bent with varying agendas — fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, libertarians, religious right, gun advocates, etc. and indeed racist groups. Sarah Palin’s hyperbole during her run for Vice President and afterwards undoubtedly fostered the evolution of the cohesion.

The Democrats, and Obama, should look at the Wall Street Protest closely. They should find articulate visible figures with moderately liberal agendas and slogans, support them in advocating their different positions in the media, and provide them with two or three easily understood slogan/messages. With that done they could convert the current protest into a movement that would positively advance the Democratic agenda. What is needed is a coherent cant that will provide passion and direction around which the protest can coalesce.

Failure to do so will constitute an extraordinarily unhappy missed opportunity. Providing coherence of the protest could be more valuable to the 2012 election than a good part of the money that he will spend and the rhetoric he will put forth.

While I agree with my friend, I believe that it is the responsibility of broadcasters to raise these issues in prime time programming. It is, in a manner of speaking, “payment” for their being able to make all of the money that they are making which has become the foundation of their vast array of media holdings.

So why have the broadcast networks not done (to the best of my knowledge) any serious coverage about these issues?

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that “journalists” like Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. control so much of what we see, read, and hear…