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Commentary ::
a documentary noone will ever see
26 May 2004
Orwell Rolls In His Grave is an excellent film that, unfortunately, nobody will ever get to see. This independent documentary, directed by Robert Kane Pappas, takes a deeply disturbing look at how mass media in the United States is controlled by only a handful of large corporations. The movie's premise is that these large corporations have one goal: to get larger and control the system that reports the news.
Orwell Rolls In His Grave is an excellent film that, unfortunately, nobody will ever get to see. This independent documentary, directed by Robert Kane Pappas, takes a deeply disturbing look at how mass media in the United States is controlled by only a handful of large corporations. The movie's premise is that these large corporations have one goal: to get larger and control the system that reports the news. To this end, big media has aligned itself with the conservative Republican political minority and has pushed their selfish agenda in order to gain political favor and build fortunes.

Punctuated with quotes and phrases from George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, this film takes issues that many people may already suspect to be true and presents it with sound and video. The movie is a good presentation of how American society has turned into an oligarchy of frightening proportions. In some sense, Orwell Rolls In His Grave is a pretty depressing film. To think that the wealthiest one-tenths of one percent of the country is in control of the largest corporations, the executive and judicial branches of government and the mass media is something that challenges our notions of freedom and democracy.

Why are some news stories dropped? Why are some news stories not reported on at all? The documentary presents evidence that the 1980 and 2000 U.S. presidential elections were won by Republicans through dirty tricks and media spin and control. The movie investigates the 1980 "October Surprise" when hostages held for more than 400 days in Iran were detained longer until after the presidential election. Director Pappas presents evidence that representatives from the Ronald Reagan campaign met with representatives from Iran to ensure that the hostages would not be released until after the election. The hostages were released the day of Reagan's inauguration. After a congressional commission turned back any accusation of wrongdoing, the story and scandal was never reported further.

The movie also shows the scandalous situation during the 2000 election which led to many votes not being counted or tallied incorrectly in Florida. With the rest of the country divided, Florida became the pivotal state in which the presidential election would be decided. The election between George W. Bush and Al Gore was so close in Florida, that the Florida State Supreme Court ordered a manual recount of all ballots to determine the winner. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, stopped the recount when it looked like Gore may win. The movie suggests that Bush "stole" the election and the media essentially overlooks this political maneuvering.

Orwell Rolls In His Grave is an acerbic political movie. It ties in big media with politics and specifically targets the Republican party and the Neo-Conservative (neocon) movement. The creators of the film present a lot of evidence linking politics and big media corporations, however it glosses over some other issues which may have made a more balanced report. For example, the 1980 "October Surprise" got a lot of press 6 years later when the public learned that the Reagan administration actually did make an arms deal with the Iranian government for the release of the hostages -- it then look the money it made during this illegal sale and sent it to rebels in Nicaragua. This scandal became known as the Iran-Contra Affair and the resulting reports and congressional hearings were news for nearly two years.

The movie also gives only glancing reference to the Clinton administration's approval of media deregulation. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was the first huge step toward allowing media consolidation. Democrats are not innocent in allowing media consolidation.

However, looking past the political twisting of the film, it does present many compelling ideas about how media has been altered and sculpted to fit in with the agenda of large corporations. Many times during the film, it shows the Big Ten media companies as represented by The Nation online. Interviews with the Center for Public Integrity founder Charles Lewis, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor Robert McChesney, New York University professor Mark Crispin Miller (picture to the right), and Vermont Congressman Bernie Sanders and many others add interesting perspectives about the creation of the media empire.

Essentially, those who own the media decide what gets presented and reported. The two main examples are Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation and the Mays' Clear Channel Communications. News Corp, owner of Fox Television, Fox News, DirecTV and others unabashedly pushes its pro-Republican, pro-war, right-wing agenda. Clear Channel, owned by the Mays family from San Antonio, Texas, has close ties to President George Bush since his days as governor of Texas. Clear Channel owns 1200 radio stations, 36 television stations, and The Clear Channel Music Group which manages 70 percent of concert ticket revenue in the U.S. The documentary film presents evidence that both organizations do whatever they can to push their political agendas. Since they own the media outlets controlling what news hits the airwaves is easy. For example, the film mentions that News Corp was the first organization to announce George Bush as the winner of the 2000 election and is the most pro-Iraq War news organization. It also notes that Clear Channel stopped playing songs by the Dixie Chicks who made statements critical of the Bush administration.

The film included video of actor Tim Robbins' speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. in April 2003. Robbins talked about the policies of Clear Channel. "A famous middle-aged rock-and-roller called me last week to thank me for speaking out against the war, only to go on to tell me that he could not speak himself because he fears repercussions from Clear Channel. 'They promote our concert appearances,' he said. 'They own most of the stations that play our music. I can't come out against this war.'

"A chill wind is blowing in this nation," said Robbins (picture to the left). "A message is being sent through the White House and its allies in talk radio and Clear Channel . . . If you oppose this administration, there can and will be ramifications."

(Though not discussed, the movie also gives rationality to the recent move by Clear Channel in April 2004 to permanently take anti-Bush radio personality Howard Stern off its stations. The company said its reason was a fine from the Federal Communications Commission for indecency. Stern contents that the Republican-controlled FCC wants him off the air because of his political views.)

Orwell Rolls In His Grave is a well done film that presents the Orwellian notions of "doublespeak," "big brother" and "the endless war" in a contemporary context. Ironically, its message of corporate media control and the loss of free speech in America will never get any exposure. The film is critical of the very companies it needs for effective distribution. Politics and conspiracy theories aside, the film makes a strong case against the consolidation of media companies. In the end, the film polarizes the United States into "us" versus "them" -- this being "the general public" versus "the corporate elite." The public may eventually learn of this viewpoint, but one thing is certain. It will never be reported in the media.

As Mark Crispin Miller explains in the film, individuals may get headlines and specific companies may be investigated in newspapers and TV, but the system will never be scrutinized. Big media will never admit that it has influence over our world and corporations may allow airtime for parts of the truth, but the whole truth will never get broadcast.

This work is in the public domain
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