- NEW YORK, (Reuters)
- Privacy advocates, consumers and academics raised concerns Tuesday that
the merger of Internet giant America Online and media titan Time Warner
raised the specter of an Orwellian society.
- But the companies dismissed the image of a "Big
Brother" controlling every aspect of people's lives -- as George Orwell
envisaged it in his novel "1984" -- insisting the $164 billion
merger, including $17 billion in debt, was really aimed at making the world
a better place by fighting social ills.
- "This is not just about big business. This is not
just about money," said Gerald Levin, the Time Warner chairman who
will be chief executive of the new linkup. "This is about making a
better world for people because we now have the technology and the instruments
to do that," he said in a round of early morning television appearances.
- Under the deal, America Online, whose 22 million subscribers
now use telephone lines to go online, will gain access to Time Warner's
cable television systems with faster and better quality connections. AOL
will be able to offer speedier Internet service plus the wide range of
Time Warner's content, like CNN or HBO and Warner Bros. movies.
- But Internet services can already monitor what users
watch or read or what they order online and many people see the latest
business marriage as one more step towards Orwell's nightmare vision of
a totalitarian world. They saw in Levin's altruism, the cynical "doublespeak"
of Orwell's future.
- "If you look at it from the perspective of Orwell,
it's scary," said Gary Klatsky, assistant professor of psychology
at Oswego State University in New York. "But you can look at it from
the other perspective that it will make life easier. For example, I can
use the Internet to find a book to read. It's like having a friend giving
- "We're just scratching the surface. With new technology,
the tools are there, but we don't know how they can be used," said
Klatsky, who teaches a class on "Human-Computer Interface."
- Dean Alger, a writer and political scientist, said he
saw a danger of a few powerful media companies monopolizing the flow of
- "This clearly and profoundly deepens the megamedia
threat, the concentration of all media in a few corporate hands,"
- Alger, author of "MegaMedia: How Giant Corporations
Dominate Mass Media, Distort Competition and Endanger Democracy",
said that because corporations insist on profits over public service, they,
"degrade the news process by pushing entertainment over journalism."
- Consumer groups including the Consumers Union and the
Consumers Federation of America, warned that the concentration of media
and Internet power could hurt the public.
- "Consumers do not want to be beholden to a giant
media- Internet dictatorship, even if it promises to be a benevolent one,"
they said in a joint statement.
- Mark Crispin Miller, a communications professor at New
York University also hit at the merchandising aspect of the merger.
- "What we will see from this deal is that it is going
to give AOL-Time Warner the ability to get into people's heads all day
long and use this information to sell everything they can," he told
the Long Island newspaper Newsday.
- "No one knows, not even AOL or Time Warner, about
what this is all going to mean in five to 10 years."
- And Robert McChesney, a professor at the University of
Wisconsin, said: "Despite the fact that the press conference (Monday)
made it sound like the kingdom of God was at hand, there is a lot to worry
- Jason Catlett, an Internet privacy advocate with the
website <http://Junkbusters.comJunkbusters.com, said of the AOL-Time
Warner deal: "The media component alone raises considerable public
- "Particularly dangerous is the powerful information
and news-gathering machine the news media and Internet companies have created
and the question of whether private information will be protected is a
huge one," he told Reuters.
- In Brussels, the International Federation of Journalists
warned the merger could threaten democratic values and freedom of speech
unless editorial independence was protected.
- "This merger may redefine the worlds of entertainment,
communication and commerce, but it may also threaten democracy, plurality
and quality in media," IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said in a
- He failed to mention that in "1984" there was
no on/off switch to the screen beaming Big Brother's face and words.