Whack A Murdoch: Media Mogul Gets Game

whackamurdoch-horiz.jpgBig Media Smack Down! You ready?

Just for fun, I tried this ever-so-clever animation game from the Stop Big Media consortium with my TV-loving tween to open a discussion on the high stakes gambit of unchecked media consolidation. (yeah, I know, I have a weird household)

Being an animal lover, the violence of the ‘Whack a Mole’ arcade game always made me cringe, but somehow, digitally smashing TVs works for me…Pounding junk journalism and big media to avoid information control and convey the need for free speech and viewer choice in “Who Chooses the News” doesn’t bother me a bit. Especially now…

On Dec. 18th, FCC chair Kevin Martin won a 3 to 2 vote defying overwhelming public opposition to loosen the policy on media ownership. (Ahem, is it me or does it seem like govt. decisions slip into law when citizens are busy during the holidays and not paying full attention?) Free Press has amped up their viral action using social media fun (try to beat your friends’ score, etc.) to engage youth awareness on the perils of media consolidation.

Check out this compelling 18-pg. pdf called Devil in the Details prompting their open letter to Congress, potentially repealing the law that will grant cross-ownership. They’ve provided quick media mobilization to overturn the FCC ruling as well as all kinds of smart ‘forward to a friend’ opportunities.

In fairness, here are some strong counterpoints, too:

Here’s a 52 pg. pdf from New Millenium Research Council (NMRC), a paper from the Cato Institute’s In Defense of Media Monopolies and a pithy article by Jack Shafer of Slate, called Media Monotony that argues the other side of the coin (um, or in this case, coinage!)

How does all this media consolidation impact KIDS and global issues?

To best explain the complex concept of what happens “when too much media falls into too few hands,” seems we could use KIDS own faves to demo the conundrum of information control and instill media literacy and awareness with critical thinking skills…

Using simplistic examples:

Would you want to hear Radio Disney 24/7 with the same hitlist and point of view repeatedly?

What if Disney didn’t like an artist that you really enjoyed? Do you think it would make the request playlist?

If you only hear about virtual worlds like VMK, Club Penguin, and Disney partners, how does that skew your thinking of which virtual world is ‘cool’?

And not to pick on Disney here, use ANY kids’ favorite shows, sites, channels and games to discuss ‘what ifs’ in terms of vested interests, propaganda, aligned commercialism of goods and services, free speech, and the impact on kids’ choices…

new-media-monopoly.jpgLook no further than the recent Facebook beacon privacy fiasco to see how this plays out in social media, as Scott Karp at Publishing2.0 addresses specifically in this cautionary tale about new media monopolies.

Then of course, there’s the whole debate over ‘too much media’ in the first place…

Are kids capable of ‘thinking out of the box’ or are they being brandwashed and brainwashed with toxic cues and passive entertainment from ‘the box’ itself? (not just THE box, but ALL screens universally, as the Unplug Your Kids blog points out)

As this Metropolitan Youth Orchestra blog interviewee says, “If you’re really serious about music, blow up your television set. Get rid of it… Television is an electronic iron curtain that kills creativity. A veritable wasteland.”

eye-kids.jpgOuch. Harsh. But look closely at this iStock photo…Can you see the TV monitor reflected in the glazed-over eyes?

When it comes to mind-melding, free play and creativity studies, TV does exemplify passive/brainwave entertainment…no question there…Of course, that’s another post in itself…And I do LOVE media, I’m IN media, and vote for moderation in media, so it’s not like I’d chose to remain ‘unplugged’ by ANY stretch of the imagination in the digital media/internet realm.

For now, I’ll just say I find playing this silly little whack a TV-screen game a fine use of media messaging to convey a concept in a playful, educational manner.

The visual depiction of regional sprawl and subversive edutainment sticks, much like when my own UC Communications professor smashed a TV in our lecture hall long ago and that visual was seared into my recall in shades of Jerry Mander’s book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television.

stop-big-media.jpgThat reinforces how one brief dramatic moment can remain freeze- framed in kids’ mental relays for decades. All the more reason to pay close attention to what we’re putting out there, as well as who owns what/whom in terms of vested interest and influence.

What do YOU think?

Is media consolidation, ‘the big bad wolf’ in your eyes? Or is it an inevitable shift in our economic culture? Is this making a ‘mogul-mountain out of a molehill?’ (sorry, couldn’t resist)

As much as I try to report both sides of these issues with balance, my editorial stance slides towards the ol’ John Lennon lyrics…

“Power to the people, right on.”

Here are a handful of resources from both ends of the spectrum to help you frame your own response:

Interview with Nicolas Johnson, former FCC Chair, re: Media Monopolies

Frank Baker’s Media Literacy Clearinghouse: Link List for “Big Media”

The Media Monopoly Myth by Benjamin Compaine, New Millenium Research

Challenging Media/Video Clip: Mickey Mouse Monopolies

Massive Links List From Corporations.org: “Media Reform Information Center”

FAIR: (Fairness Accuracy in Reporting) Corporate Ownership & links list

FAIR’s Article: Long History, Short Memories (about ABC merger a decade ago!)

Buzz Flash: Review of Ben Bagdikian’s New Media Monopoly

ATT $67 Billion Merger w/Bell South: AlterNet Article/New Media Monopoly

Media Channel.org

Now, A Personal Note:

As an adjunct to this piece, even though it doesn’t specifically pertain to “kids’ media,” I feel compelled to share the more serious implications of media monopolies when reporting is skewed and coverage isn’t what it should be…

Using this personal e-mail thread of mine among my global colleagues at Women Leaders for the World…I have to ask the obvious question…what happens when media conglomerates dominate the news and information putting democracy as a whole at stake?

Choosing which stories to cover is key to ‘spin’ and propaganda…and the U.S. is in danger of losing the ‘checks and balances’ of centrist thinking to mergers and acquisitions falling into few hands.

The internet (Facebook, e-mail, our blogs, and various social media methods of outreach) keeps me apprised when mainstream media does not…

I rarely even read US press anymore without counter-balancing it with multiple other reports from around the globe for context & perspective…

From my dear media colleagues in Pakistan amidst the Bhutto assassination chaos, to my GWLN family in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe who are undergoing civil strife to the point of massive uprising…there are HUGE news events of colossal import…

Yet where is OUR own U.S. media coverage?

“Zoey 101’s” teen pregnancy…Her sister Britney’s mental state, and perhaps the candidate debates…to a lesser degree. Sigh.

The following thread below has the primary names removed, but will give you a snapshot of exactly what I’m talking about…

Media squelching, media deprivation, media manipulation…if media consolidation falls into a handful of mega-mogul players.

THIS is my inherent concern, raw and uncut…. As James Thurber would say, “it’s my world, and welcome to it.”

This is one of many e-mail exchanges within our WLW group, please SIGN this petition, get the word out, and do what you can. (boldface emphasis, my own)

“You know I have great memories of sharing our space and time with the
Global Women’s Leadership Training – and am wondering how your family and
friends are faring in Kenya as well our friends and family in Uganda…

This is the latest report I have and am sharing – I am so outraged that
the news (at least in Los Angeles) is not covering this story – I have
heard so much…

Below is an urgent notification of a catastrophic situation in Kenya
just received from Firoze Manji the highly respected editor of
Pambazuka News…

The situation in Kenya is apparently much worse than is being reported
in the press.

Do what you can to stop the blood bath.

———- Forwarded message ———-
Date: 1 Jan 2008 21:08
Subject: urgent situation in Kenya

Dear All,
I just spoke with __and the situation is way way beyond what is
in the press, including the BBC.

Below is what he sent me. It is extremely urgent to get the petition
to as many people as possible. We could be headed for another Rwanda
or worse. Peace,

1/1/08 2:01 AM
Just had an email from Nairobi today
1/1/08 2:01 AM
Dear ___and team,

I’ve just come out of a meeting of human rights organizations and
civil society groups at the KNCHR.

The meeting broke up abruptly with the latest news of a church in Eldoret just burned down with 200 people in it.

We heard through phone calls from people in the region
that over 5,000 armed Kalenjin, Pokot and Marakwet are marching on a
local area of forest, razed to the ground by yesterday, where over
1,000 Kikuyu had taken shelter, after being displaced from their

We heard in the meeting that the death toll is being severely
under-reported by the media.

The assessment of those receiving eyewitness reports from the field is no less than 5,000 dead in Nairobi’s slums.

The city mortuary and other morgues are off limits, guarded by GSU, to prevent media seeing the numbers of bodies.

We are in civil war. That’s not an extreme statement – it was repeated by those in the meeting, who have had years of experience in the field, as they shook their heads in disbelief.

Neighbors are butchering each other. A 24-hour curfew has been imposed on Kisumu and Migori, without legal authority, by General Ali.

People have been confined to their homes for over 3 days, without food or water, and face gunfire from police if they emerge to search for food.

Rift Valley is ablaze – and the violence is clearly ethnically targeted.

Eldoret is unreachable, except by air. There are no fuel supplies left in Kisumu.

Uganda’s roads are at a standstill, as all fuel deliveries from Kenya have been grounded in the last few days. As Kenya shuts down, we are shutting down the whole region.

1/1/08 2:53 AM

To: Leaders of PNU and ODM


We the undersigned call on the ODM and PNU leaders to urgently seek a
resolution to the current electoral crisis in the country and restore
peace and harmony in the country through leadership.

We express our concern at the deteriorating situation in Kenya following
what has been widely acknowledged as an impressive election turn-out. We
commend the Kenyan people for their dignity and courage but also express
our condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives and to
the many who have been injured in the course of needless violence over the
last few days. This is a time for Kenyans to be patient, dignified and to
look for solutions that are in the best interest of the majority.

We regret the chaos which has caused loss of life, destruction of property
and general unrest in the country. The contested outcome has marred the
prospects of democracy and peace not only in Kenya but also in Africa. The
cloud which hangs over the conclusion of one of the most fiercely-fought
elections in Kenya’s history is regrettable. We believe that peace should
be regained as a matter of urgency so that a free and fair outcome can be

We believe that this is not the time for provocative actions, but a time
for demonstrating leadership through bringing the contending partners to
the table. This crisis can be resolved by the players in disagreement
using conciliation and arbitration mechanisms as a matter of urgency to
plan a peaceful resolution of the crisis. If necessary, this could be done
with the involvement of others such as the African Union and others, such
as those who acted as election observers. We urge the contending leaders
to act within the spirit of democracy and seek to heal the wounds that
have been opened by recent events and to do so in transparent ways.

We are aware of the betrayal that many may feel in what they consider to
be an electoral injustice. We ask them to engage in the process by seeking
explanation and accountability and to be guided by their own sense of
civic responsibility.

We call on the PNU and ODM leaders to seek conciliation and resolution of
the current crisis for the sake of the country.

We call for mechanisms for mediation and conciliation to be put in place
urgently to give voice to all grievances that have arisen from the present
situation in which there can be no winners, only losers. We welcome the
mediation processes that have been initiated

We call for an immediate ending of violence by the security forces and all
other parties. Whilst we recognize that the security forces have a role to
play in maintaining peace and order, we condemn the disproportionate and
excessive use of force by the security forces against unarmed civilians
that has been manifest over the last few days.

We call for an independent transparent review of the whole electoral
process and its outcomes so as to resolve any differences between
contesting parties. This should include reviewing the results of the
election and all reported irregularities, especially those related to the
disparities in the tallying of the final results.

We call for a swift formation of an independent and credible Judicial
Commission of Enquiry by endorsing the call by the Electoral Commissioners
who have called for one.

We urge the international community to be patient pending the outcome of
such a proposed review process. As it is Kenyans who have to live with the
consequences of a Mwai Kibaki or Raila Odinga government, the
international community can only follow the recommendations of an
independent review before declaring the elections free and fair.

We call on those who wish to see a peaceful democratic Kenya, especially
in the African Union, to support initiatives that can bring this crisis to
a swift conclusion by facilitating dialogue and reconciliation.

We are deeply concerned by the gagging of the media, especially as this
has only fueled suspicion and encouraged speculation in an already highly
volatile situation. Freedom of expression has been one of our greatest
democratic prizes won by Kenyans during the last few years and we cannot
afford to go backwards.

We call for an immediate and unconditional lifting of the reporting ban so
as to ensure that Kenyans are able to keep abreast of what is happening.
We commend the Kenyan press for the work they have done to keep
information flowing. It is precisely in the time of crisis that a free and
independent media is essential to ensure a democracy that is based on
information not speculation.

We urge the international media community to support the Kenyan press
during this time and continue promoting the right for a free and
independent press especially during such a period.

We call on all peace loving people to join us in calling for a swift
conclusion to the crisis so that Kenya can return to normality and people
can continue their lives without fear and anxiety.

Sincerely, The Undersigned



  1. (take 2— the first attempt appears lost).

    First off, I agree too much important news (Kenya) is under-reported. Remember CNN’s former Chief News executive Eason Jordan who admitted knowing about human rights violations in Iraq for over a decade but never reported them. Often, unpalatable news seems to be to easily disregarded.

    That there is a media conglomeration is hardly new. Long ago a major city like NY could count a dozen or more daily newspapers; those days are but a memory now.

    Back in the low-tech days of radio, at best there were a few stations to choose from. Later on, after TV, in the hey day of Huntley-Brinkley, or fellow colleague Walter Cronkite, the network anchors admitted to ‘setting the agenda’ of the news. Set the agenda? What happened to reporting the news?

    Rarely did one of the three big networks scoop the others, and by the next day they were all about even again.

    Case in point: at the risk of touching a ‘third-rail’ on your blog, many believe the outcome of Vietnam would have been quiet different had Mr. Cronkite’s objectivity been maintained.

    Even in the last 25-30 years, newspapers have hardly had an independent voice. The LA Times, Washington Post and NY Times could all be interchanged, and not just their editorial pages.

    Pick up a local newspaper in any town, USA. Odds are very good you’ll find a NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE byline on a front page story; this means the Old Grey Lady, often heralded as the “newspaper of record,” can influence Podunk with their news agenda as easily as they do in NYC.

    Today there is an explosion of news and information: radio, cable and the Internet. There are hundreds of blogs for every point of view, from the radical ones at either end of the spectrum, all available online.

    So long as parents are active and aware of the news going on – both reported and under-reported – we can help our kids stay abreast of what matters.

  2. Charlie! So good to hear from you! Yes, ‘yellow journalism’ has been around from days of yore…as have monopolies…but it doesn’t mean either one are ethically correct…yeah, I know, this is where that ‘idealist’ streak kicks in and I have to tamp down the soapbox factor, wishing people would just ‘do the right thing’…

    ALL news is skewed…we know that, which is why I read from multiple global sources and get different POVs from diff. countries in order to even attempt an inkling of an understanding of foreign affairs.

    I just received another missive from a dear one in Kenya titled, “It is beyond ethnic”

    It is such calm, level-headed reporting amidst the chaos, that it makes me cringe at our media by comparison. (though she’s a citizen, not a media hack, so that makes a big diff too!) She holds her head high in such a magnificent, balanced mindset, check this out:

    “Thanks for your encouraging words and concern. Yes Kenya is burning and for the last one week we could not step outside or even reach out to send any mails. For some time now, we are just on relayed news no live reporting it is our dear hope that peace is restored back…”

    “However the most important thing we must acknowledge is that peace emanates from our minds, and it must find the required ingredients which is truth and sincerity in our hearts…We are also praying for people to understand and be ready to go through transformation of the mindset process in order to be transformed from the negative and reactive thinking to positive and generative thinking which is inclusive and forward looking.”

    All I can say is ‘wow’…Her last line really resonated with me…such grace under fire, so to speak. And the one that YOU wrote, “as long as parents are active and aware of the (un)reported news” etc. resonated w/me in a different way…because alas, that is indeed a HUGE portion of the problem w/mind-melding & media…

    Sadly, many parents are more lemmings than learners…functioning at a ‘lowest common denominator’ capacity heavily influenced by the loudest voice.

    As one of our S.Y. board advisors, John says, it’s “The Braindead Megaphone” in play (shades of George Saunders essays) have you read ’em? Worth a peek…http://tinyurl.com/393e33 Anyway, like you said, it’s ‘nothing new’ but my concern is that we’re not learning from our past (ATT, ABC, RCA, and…er…Vietnam…etc.) and our future mindshare is veering toward Google-ization (gobbling global assets).

    I can’t help but wonder if fewer voices in fewer hands will yield only the most brazen and brash to be heard as the quiet, contemplative THINKERS/thought leaders are drowned out by the cacophony of media noise and vested interest…(thank gawd for the internet, as you rightfully point out! That’s why I take such solace here vs. mainstream press, I’m afraid!)

    Like I said, I’m no longer a journalist, so I’m CLEARLY editorializing! 😉 Ain’t that what blogs are for? heehe…

    Thanks for the mental floss as always…

  3. Obviously my stand on TV is blatantly obvious (thanks for the link by the way). Since without TV I must gather my news from a variety of sources, newspaper, radio, magazines and the internet I do feel I get a more complete picture.

    With satellite radio and the internet I like to listen to the BBC and France Info (French news radio – I speak French). It is always REALLY interesting and enlightening to hear what other countries are talking about and consider important. I remember listening to France Info when the US first invaded Iraq and hearing the French reporter’s observations and opinion of it all (obviously very different from what we heard in the US). It was fascinating!

    I have been without TV for about 6 years now, and whenever I watch TV news when I am in a hotel or staying at someone’s house, I am really shocked at the constant repetition (usually of very obvious points) and the focus on what, in my mind, are the least important stories. After all, I can get all the news I need about Britney’s little sister’s upcoming baby in the check out line of the supermarket. Do I really need it on CNN too?

    Often the focus of TV news is on stories that I have never heard of (not even in the checkout line!). Do I live under a rock or do I just hear more about things that matter more? Hmmm…

    I was just listening to something on Public Radio about the consolidation of radio and the disappearance of local radio stations. This is part of this same consolidation trend. Not good in my mind. Perhaps Rupert will speak for us all one day.

  4. yes, that’s my purpose for reading/listening to other countries reporting re: U.S. actions as well, only way to get a solid worldview/snapshot.

    As a ‘global citizen’ (ok, military brat) it used to always amaze me how different the media reports were from region to region…all focused on the same news subject matter.

    That’s one of the media literacy exercises we do with youth is ask them to source the same story from diff. papers and read the ‘point of view’ and then go on the internet and do the same…with the help of a parent if need be…

    I think your mental filter is enabling you to ‘tune out’ the sensationalism (I know mine does…I’m almost immune when someone asks me ‘did you hear about’ blah de blah celebrity just as if those ‘busybody playground parents’ try to gossip… I enjoy turning a ‘deaf ear’…)

    As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”

    Thanks for being a “great mind!” And for stopping by the blog!! 😉

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