Some See Orwell's
'Big Brother' In AOL-Time
Warner Merger

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 you advice.
"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 information.
"This clearly and profoundly deepens the megamedia threat, the concentration of all media in a few corporate hands," he said.
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 about here."
Jason Catlett, an Internet privacy advocate with the website <, said of the AOL-Time Warner deal: "The media component alone raises considerable public concerns.
"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 statement.
He failed to mention that in "1984" there was no on/off switch to the screen beaming Big Brother's face and words.


This Site Served by TheHostPros