Media Consolidation Infographic |
November 25, 2011
Thanks to FrugalDad for creating an asset that gets at WHY WE ARE NOT WORKING WITH MEDIA CONGLOMERATES ON ARTEMIS ETERNAL but are, instead, in fact, invested in establishing proof-of-concept for alternative methods. Oh and also? The main point is to make great movies.
This infographic is a nice start, especially since it was created by someone who is not a media expert and because there are so few visuals about this phenomenon available. At this point in time no comprehensive independent (or non-independent, for that matter) study on Western media ownership and influence exists. In addition to the points represented in this infographic, there are other systemic items to consider. Plus there is the wider influence and dealing that is mentioned. For a more niche example in the web of media influence, lately I've been researching the military and media.
What I discovered is that military advertising budgets are extremely high. Working in media and film I'm used to large advertising budgets and campaigns, and I grasp cost/value of propaganda as well as how placement and ROI works. The military budgets made even me pause. Anyone who I've casually discussed this with in Washington waives a dismissive hand, "All government programs are bloated."
Just for a tidbit, the four military services spent over $600 million on advertising in 2007. At least 60% of what's spent is going to media conglomerate TV stations (including NBC, which is partially owned by one of the biggest defense contractors: GE), not to mention their other properties.
The last Army advertising contract was $1.35 billion over a maximum of five years.
And of course this does not include other recruitment costs or all of the interior media program costs (the military has some serious media programs). I mean, does The Pentagon Channel really need a cooking show?
Why do this?
Media is influential. The more repetitive (including filter bubbles and vertical integration) or more cinematic and mythologizing a piece of media/idea and the campaigns surrounding it are, the more the influence increases.
Of course when I think of "media" and "influence", I'm taken back to my appearance at the FCC and the wall of NBC-Comcast merger lobbyists in dark suits who dwarfed me.
And also the global AOL Time Warner merger fallout, of which I am the youngest veteran.
All of this, and yet there is more. For instance the armed forces subsidize pro-military Hollywood pictures via access while, at the same time, blocking movies that might question the implications of war, the military and how they do business.
The military is public-funded and I think we can make an argument based on current military issues and public polls that the public does not want (or perhaps currently require) a "win at any cost" military, which conflicts with American ideals. What criteria should we use, then, to decide whether or not movies receive access and resource support?
While non-fiction reporting and documentaries will (hopefully) continue to report on the military regardless of access (an upcoming example), I could make a strong case for the importance of motion picture fiction in fully exploring a theme, issue and institution. I'd start by citing 'The Wire'.
• My professional take is that there is a better solution than having a draft or having a hyper-expensive and bombastic media advertising plot intertwined with consolidated mega-conglomerates and their partners.
• My professional take is that any viable American production should be given the same consideration and access that a Hollywood picture has, regardless of "message".
• My professional take is that at this time there is no Pentagon employee who is qualified to review the literary quality of my screenplay.
I'll note that NASA has an approval process. They don't want to be involved with blatant anti-science that misleads the public. Ethically this makes sense and serves the public. So far (scifi director) I've found them to be accessible to indie filmmakers BUT my understanding is that the insurance involved in working with many of their locations makes it difficult for non-huge-budget movies (i.e. anything less than 'Armageddon') to shoot there. With indie, they also want distribution locked in as a caveat (indie film typically does not have distro deals in place prior to shooting) so that's not ideal. They do it because they don't want to get burned but there are better criteria they would use if they understood the filmmaking process. Regardless, overall I find their policies more ethical and sensible.
In the past, the VOA (the official external broadcast institution of the United States federal government) has been prohibited from broadcasting to Americans. The idea is that this protects Americans from propaganda by their own government. Is this at all in conflict with the way the military creates internal media (watch the Pentagon channel) or does business with private media conglomerates?
Anecdotally I've noticed that there is a growing backlash to the mythology portrayed in military propaganda. Sadly, it's easier and too often cheaper to romanticize the armed forces than to develop strong, attractive programs and educate potential soldiers on the value of those benefits and programs.
In the meantime, the connections between media consolidation and powerful influence are staggering. All of these schemes are in the interest of reinforcing the corporate status quo. It's a conspiracy of money and opportunism. Sometimes a reporter or critic in The New York Times or GQ or Rolling Stone will run a comment on Hollywood's poor product or other media conglomerate issues in their entertainment sections (i.e. where people who watch media go), but their outlets never break from the habits they criticize: In fact they re-enforce the system of control.
I love Team America, it is critical of many of these issues. But when the extreme profit and prestige goes to a company that is a part of the problem, it can render the cutting themes of a great film toothless. A tragic, high-profile example is the Hollywood movie adaptation for The Hunger Games, a popular young adult book that makes a sharp comment on media and violence.
This is a series that literally takes the time to explain the idea of bread and circuses for the reader, and to criticize press junkets, talk shows and media control. In a matter of astonishing irony the way the film is made and marketed promotes and profits everything the novel detests.
The Hunger Games isn't commenting on the games: IT IS THE GAMES.
How, then, does an ethical filmmaker, with social premises to explore, create meaningful cinema in this system? It's simply not possible. It's not possible to comment on society via a media conglomerate without feeding the beast, without profiting ideas counter to the meaning of one's work. No counter-argument can be made. This is dire. The Harry Potter Alliance knows what I mean: Their 'Not in Harry's Name' campaign seeks to shame Warner Brothers into going fair trade on its Harry Potter licensed chocolate bars.
Harry Potter chocolates made by child labor: If it were my story, I would not be able to sleep at night.
An example that shows that high profile professionals and creators working inside the system don't necessarily have the power to change things.
There are a lot of looming, very large issues in America and the west that come back to the root issue of media. Who owns it? How is it consolidated? How is it used and manipulated? And, of paramount importance: How literate are audiences? Does a media conglomerate make you less media literate via its programming? NewsCorp is the prime offender in terms of the latter, as are most cable news entities as well as magazines.
As a final thought, the mega-firm that developed the 'Army of One' advertising campaign fraudulently billed the US Army for over $15MM. That firm also does landmine awareness ads for UNICEF. Oh the many ways one can profit from war and media!
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