Own the news media and you are Big Brother

imageThis week, NPR broadcast an interesting story on The Villages, a burgeoning retirement community in Florida. What made it interesting was the developer of the project “owns just about everything.” This includes the local media. As NPR’s Robert Siegel explained:

The local radio station, which of course plays oldies, its also piped by loudspeaker to the two downtowns – is owned by the developer. So is The Villages’ Daily Sun, a full-sized newspaper with multiple sections. It has a local reporting staff and runs AP stories about the rest of the world.

The peril of a lack of competition in news media came out in an interview Siegel had with Joe Gorman, the president of the property owners association in The Villages, a natural adversary to the developer.

SIEGEL: Joe Gorman says that after his group raised that issue, over a thousand homes were eventually repaired. He says the vinyl siding story escaped the notice of the local paper and the radio station completely, as does his organizations work in general.

Siegel also interviewed Andrew Blechman, the author of Leisureville, a book about The Villages. Blechman describes The Villages as a benevolent totalitarian government:

Everything is owned by the developer. The government is owned by the developer. Everything’s privatized and they’re happy with that. You know, they traded in the ballot box for the corporate suggestion box.

Why is this interesting? Because it demonstrates the American fear of propaganda by Big Brother. The developer is an effective propagandist in this situation not because certain stories are broadcast and others are not, but because there is a lack of competition, which would result in both accountability and a broader spectrum of news. This also creates the environment of Big Brother: the media and the ‘government’ are one and the same and support each other.

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4 Replies to “Own the news media and you are Big Brother”

  1. This premise of this story would be more believable if outside radio and TV stations were jammed and members of the community could not subscribe to other newspapers or periodicals, did not have Internet access, and local stores refused to sell books, periodicals and newspapers not approved by the developer. in the absence of any evidence of any of the foregoing, this is much ado about nothing.

  2. Bill,While it is admittedly unfathomable the development would jam radio or filter television or Internet content, you’re ignoring a very likely fundamental reality: that the ‘outside’ media will find the information newsworthy. It is unlikely news about the community will come from outside the community and thus news about the community must come from the community’s media. Thus, the developer gets to decide what is news. Is a radio station outside of The Village, or a television station, say the local NBC affiliate, going to provide news that is truly germane to the community?
    Ultimately the point is that the threat of Big Brother comes not from the control over content but the control over distribution.

  3. I think the truly scary thing is there are children being raised in similar socially (cf. socio-economically) homogeneous communities around the country. They’re called “Suburbs”, and they’ve also been found in studies to be pretty dysfunctional places.

  4. The Villages built on the Disney World model of landlord as a law until itself — limited or non-existent self-government by any occupants. See, Disney went to the state legislature and got itself an unprecedented deal that resulted in an enclave (the “Reedy Creek Improvement District”) that is outside the reach of any local government. The Osceola County sheriff isn’t allowed on the premises without permission of management. Ever hear of elections inside Disney World? Ask the folks in Anaheim, CA, what they think of direct rule in their little colony in Crackerlandia.Add to that decades of Florida experience with exclusive “gated” communities, condo law, mill towns, and growing lobbying pressure from private security companies, and you get The Villages. There’s an irony, too, that The Villages has become a favorite campaign stop for GOP (and a few Dems, too) candidates, whose talking points feature the usual rhetoric on individual freedom and the dangers of too much government. Well, here we have the inverse of the old Communist nightmare of total government control. Here, we have the specter of total control by private property that denies the right of self-government.
    But, these residents did in fact choose to live and die in The Villages. There’s something to be said for the freedom from certain headaches late in life, like too much information or civic engagement. And you’ve got to love the added irony of the unwitting bow to Patrick McGoohan’s classic series, “The Prisoner.”

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