Wednesday, April 26, 2006

They even sold our History! Smithsonian 's secret deal with Showtime

We all know Satayana's Famous warning about those who forget their history; but I wonder what special damnation waits for those who sell it off to the first megacorporation that cuts a check?


Thanks to a secret, no-bid deal cut in the beginning of this year, the complete terms of which they refuse to release,  The Smithsonian, "the Nation's Attic", has become  Showtime's Candy Store instead.




As part of a near-exclusive deal with Showtime Networks, the Smithsonian Institution is restricting filmmakers' access to its scientists and archives....,  Now most filmmakers will not have in-depth use of Smithsonian materials unless they are creating work for the Smithsonian/Showtime unit.



Which means effectively that $800 million a year in taxpayer funds we spend on the venerable institution has just become another form of corporate welfare:

To understand what an utter outrage this deal is you must first understand the incredible depth and breadth of the institution and its archives.  First, the Smithsonian is not a single museum but 15 separate museums covering almost every imaginable subject from the Famous Air and Space museum  to the National Zoo to the newly opened American Indian Museum.   And even that only scratches the surface of what the Institution  really is. The institute's archives hold millions of historical

documents, and photographs, miles of film ( 8 million feet in the anthropology archive alone), and thousands of hours of recordings that are unique and able to be found nowhere else in the world.  And all of it, every last treasure, was just made off-limits without permission from the Smithsonian's corporate partner Showtime.


Or to quote noted firebrand Documentarian Ken Burns:



"History's just been made for sale to an inside deal," said Ken Burns, the Emmy-winning producer of the documentaries "Baseball" and "The Civil War."


Or to put it even more bluntly:



I was horrified that the Smithsonian would even contemplate a deal that would give a for-profit broadcaster the right of first refusal," said Nina Gilden Seavey, an Emmy-winning filmmaker and director of the Documentary Center at George Washington University. "It is a fire sale of the nation's history."


It is important to understand the contract term "right of first refusal" and what it effectively does to anyone wishing access to the Smithsonian.  .   Effectively it means that from now on anybody who wants to do ANYTHING about the Smithsonian, its collections, or even staff has to offer to sell Showtime the finished product:




Jeanny Kim, the vice president for media services at Smithsonian Business Ventures, said the filmmakers who were doing "more than an incidental treatment" of a subject mainly from Smithsonian materials or wishing to focus on a Smithsonian curator or scientist would first have to offer the idea to Smithsonian/Showtime. Otherwise, the archives could not be used


Not only is this an outrageous enrichment of a private company at public expense, but it is literally allowing a corporation to spin  our history as it sees fit. According to the deal, to get access to the Archives, Filmmakers MUST sell their final products to Showtime if Showtime wishes to purchase them.   However there are no control on what Showtime does once the film is in their possession, whether or if they ever air it, and what edits they may chose to make before doing so.    They are now free to spin pieces of the historical record anyway they find convenient and no one can effectively rebut them.   It almost goes without saying that this is an unbelievably dangerous idea.  


Worse yet, Showtime is a only a tiny part of the Communications Giant  Viacom.  Viacom's other holdings include: CBS,  dozens of Local TV and Radio Stations , 20 different cable channels (including MTV and all its demon-spawn), Simon and Schuster publishers, King World Distributors, etc.  and it would be utterly naïve to believe that they have no plans for leveraging their access to the Smithsonian's collections  for corporate synergy purposes.   Those things they find helpful or profitable can be promoted and those they find unhelpful can be suppressed (for example inconvenient historical records that contradict a Blockbuster Biopic made by Paramount, might never see the light of Day if Viacom decided releasing them would hurt the Box office gross)


We have fought hard to save other National treasures like ANWAR, and staked out the principle that sacrificing our natural heritage for short term corporate profits was a bad idea.


That principle has Never been more imperiled than by this back room, still-secret deal that effectively turns over millions or unique and irreplaceable historical records, knowledge and artifacts to a giant entertainment company.  If you stood Up for ANWAR it's time to stand again and not let a giant Mega-corporation take sole ownership of your History.



Update [2006-4-19 8:0:8 by Magorn]:
Read this Diary on this deal as well, the author has an excellent sense of what this deal means in a larger context

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