Editorial #5
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An Editorial By Carlos Fuentes -

From REG # 12

Sinister Overtones mark Disney deal

The absorption of Capital Cities/ABC by Disney is a business deal motivated by profit - or, if you wish, greed - but also by hunger for power.

As a business deal it could claim to be value-neutral, but because of the kind of business deal it is, it cannot claim to be innocent.

When and entertainment giant buys an information giant, you can bet your Mickey Mouse cap on who is going to define the whole operation. Information will suffer, entertainment will flourish.

We are, argues Neil Postman, the New York University educator and social critic, Amusing Ourselves To Death, to quote his insightful book title.

The American Broadcasting Company / Disney deal is one giant step forward in the march toward a grinning death, death by slapping your knee in delight, a smiling death acted out by smiling robots who, little by little, are being deprived of their right to choose, discriminate, criticize or even rebel against what they are receiving and the way they are receiving it.

Not that there is anything inherently evil in good old entertainment.

The Danger lies in its supplanting important meaningful information.

It does this first by offering the viewer so much information that he or she can come to believe that being informed so much means being well-informed.

More and more people all over the world are convinced that abundance of information equals quality of information. They haven't the need - or the means - to search for what is left in the shadows while the sun of a few giant conglomerates selects and showers its beams on us all.

The second, more subtle arrangement, I fear, is a fatal postponement of a greatly needed relationship between the audiovisual media and their viewers.

The printed worked over the centuries - be it literature, politics or journalism - has developed a self-critique, expressed through the same medium used to communicate: the written word.

Impunity in the verbal media has traditionally been checked by verbal critics, that is, criticism in kind. That means readers are privy to what is being expressed about what they read.

But the audiovisual universe lacks precisely this critical, leveling, balancing factor. It is, in fact, blessed with impunity because it is not well criticized by audiovisual means.

Responsible TV journalism is an offshoot of responsible print journalism. To have Walter Cronkite, Peter Jennings or Ted Koppel, you first need Walter Lippmann, James Reston and Tom Wicker. Can the Koppels and Jenningses survive the onslaught of entertainment?

Just look at the policies of media Moguls such as Rupert Murdoch, who censor themselves in overseas markets so as to flatter authoritarian governments - notably in Asia. Disney chairman Michael Eisner practically promised Beijing that if political reportage made them angry, they could get Donald Duck instead, and nobody the wiser.

But a taste of things to come emerged this month when Charles Gibson, ABC's respected Good Mourning America host, asked his new bosses, Eisner and Thomas S. Murphy, if journalism and entertainment were compatible.

Murphy shot back: "Aren't you proud now to be a member of the Disney family?" In other words, aren't you proud to be a member of the Third Reich?

"madam," says a character in Jean Giraudoux's The Madwoman of Chaillot, "We are the press. You know our power. We fix all values. We set all standards. Your entire future depends on us."

That candid assertion, which sounds pretty quaint today, should be paired with another by the nefarious industrialist, Andrew Undershaft - a character in George Bernard Shaw's Major Barbara, who says: "I am a millionaire. That is my religion."

He said a mouthful.

In a world being ripped apart by religious, racist, nationalist and tribal fundamentalism's, we are now giving the place of honor to the fundamentalism of the marketplace - a quasi religious conviction that, if merely left to itself, the market will work things out.

This hand-of-God faith has its own ayatollahs. Their church is profit, their alter greed, their host a merger, their prayer a monopoly, their halo a Mickey Mouse cap.

Who's afraid? I am.

Reprinted from the Austin American-Statesman newspaper, Austin Texas, August 17, 1995.

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