A specter now haunts the world: a global commercial media system dominated by a small number of superpowerful, mostly U.S.-based transnational media corporations. It is a system that works to advance the cause of the global market and promote commercial values, while denigrating journalism and culture not conducive to the immediate bottom line or long-run corporate interests. It is a disaster for anything but the most superficial notion of democracy–a democracy where, to paraphrase John Jay’s maxim, those who own the world ought to govern it.
The global commercial system is a very recent development. Until the 1980s, media systems were generally national in scope. While there have been imports of books, films, music and TV shows for decades, the basic broadcasting systems and newspaper industries were domestically owned and regulated. Beginning in the 1980s, pressure from the IMF, World Bank and U.S. government to deregulate and privatize media and communication systems coincided with new satellite and digital technologies, resulting in the rise of transnational media giants.
How quickly has the global media system emerged? The two largest media firms in the world, Time Warner and Disney, generated around 15 percent of their income outside of the United States in 1990. By 1997, that figure was in the 30 percent-35 percent range. Both firms expect to do a majority of their business abroad at some point in the next decade.
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