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Mickey Mouse Muzzles Moore and More
Published on Thursday, May 6, 2004 by the Toronto Star
Mickey Mouse Muzzles Moore and More
by Antonia Zerbisias

Disney's Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was launched yesterday at its California Adventure Park. This $75 million (U.S.) thrill ride is designed to send folks screaming up and down a "phantom elevator" that, no matter which button you push, is always stuck on "Better have a change of underwear with you."

As scary as it may be, it's not as terrifying as yesterday's news that the giant infosportsentertainment conglomerate, which is no Mickey Mouse corporation, is blocking its Miramax division from distributing Michael Moore's latest documentary Fahrenheit 9/11.

Ironically, the title is an homage to Ray Bradbury's futuristic tale about a totalitarian state where books are burned and people are distracted with junky TV and pop culture.

The film connects the dots between the Bush dynasty and significant Saudis, including the bin Laden family, whose members were flown out of the U.S. when all planes were supposedly banned from American airspace in the days after Sept. 11.

There are many dots to be connected here, starting with a private equity fund called the Carlyle Group, which is a major defence contractor with business in ... Saudi Arabia.

In fact, CBC's the fifth estate did a dandy job of making all these connections last fall in its season opener which, coincidentally, ran again last night. That was the kind of documentary you'd never see on any Disney-owned channel, including ABC, because the Carlyle Group helped bail out Euro Disney in the mid-1990s. Not that there's a connection or anything, right?

Indeed, yesterday's New York Times reported that Disney is holding back the film because its Florida theme parks, which have suffered in the post-9/11 travel bust, could lose their tax breaks in Governor Jeb Bush country.

Whoever said that information is power got it wrong. Having power over information is where it's at. And, in today's merged and converged media world, fewer and fewer people have that power.

Consider yesterday's news from Italy where Lucia Annunziata, president of the public broadcaster RAI, quit, citing government interference. She complained that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was packing the RAI board with his cronies, compromising its independence.

So what, some of you may say, pointing to CBC whose board is also filled with patronage picks.

The difference here is that Berlusconi not only owns and controls RAI's main TV competitors but also radio stations, newspapers, sports franchises and film properties.

Meanwhile, there's a tragicomedy playing out in Quebec, where Quebecor owns the biggest private network TVA, as well as the cable company that distributes it and its other specialty channels and Internet service, plus dailies, weeklies, magazines and radio stations. (In Ontario, it owns the Sun newspaper chain and is currently kicking at Toronto1's tires for a possible purchase.)

Controlled by Pierre Karl Péladeau, Quebecor is the most highly concentrated of all the highly concentrated Canadian media companies.

Last month, his TVA fired Louis Morissette, a popular comedian, which it had just hired to host a reality show. The official reason? Morissette had appeared on rival networks TQS.

But that reason is a load according to everybody in Quebec. The real reason, they say, is that Morissette mocked Péladeau in a satirical show he scripted for Radio-Canada last year.

A company spokesperson denied that, likening Morissette's being on TVA and TQS to CBC's Peter Mansbridge going on CTV. Because he had appeared elsewhere, Morissette is toast.

Okay but, if that's true, then why is Quebecor's Franco Nuovo, who defended his boss Péladeau in his Journal de Montréal column on Monday, hosting a show for Radio-Canada?

The point is that Péladeau controls most of the French-language media in Canada and that means that journalists and writers cannot afford to piss him off. It also means that Quebecers won't always get the truth, the whole truth and nothing but.

South of the border, the big media news this week is that Al Gore and his friends bought Newsworld International. The 24/7 news channel, which carries many CBC shows, will aim at drawing younger viewers to information TV. (Good freaking luck, pal. Too many kids today think The Apprentice is a business show and American Idol is democracy at work.)

"This is not going to be a liberal network, a Democratic network or a political network," Gore insists, adding that "more independent voices" are needed.

Which brings us back to Disney. Buried in yesterday's news about Fahrenheit 9/11 was a story about its other big ticket ride, Mission Space, at Walt Disney World. AP reported that, in the past eight months, half a dozen people have been hospitalized after experiencing the gravity-defying centrifugal force fling.

Not that you'll see this on ABC's Nightline — which Disney boss Michael Eisner also tried to kill a few years ago. This is the guy who also snuffed out Politically Incorrect for being, well, politically incorrect in George W. Bush's Amerika.

Last year, Disney installed barf bags on Mission Space.


But what really should be making people sick is how Disney is trying to muzzle free expression in the country that purports to champion freedom to the rest of the world.

Copyright Toronto Star Newspapers Limited.


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