EDITED BY GALE HOLLAND
YOU MAKE ME WANT TO SHOUT — THAT'S THE TUNE SOME Mexicans may feel like singing these days following the news that a German publishing house may be making money off playing their national anthem in the U.S. The story emerged during a recent Mexican Senate debate over NAFTA, the controversial free-trade agreement between Mexico, the U.S. and Canada. Gabriel Larrea Richerand, a Mexican attorney who heads up the government's copyright agency, Instituto Mexicano de Derechos de Autor (IMDA), was asked about the anthem. He said the song was composed in 1853 by Jaime Nunó, a Spanish national, and Francisco Gonzalez Bocanegra, a Mexican. They were supposed to turn over the rights to Mexico in exchange for a government prize. But for reasons unknown, the government never tendered the award, and years later, Nunó's family sold the rights to Wagner House, a German music-publishing company.
More decades later, the Mexican anthem was mysteriously copyrighted in the U.S. by three composers: Nunó and two Americans, Harry Henneman and Phil Hill. Mexican officials tried to fix the loony tune in 1943 by issuing a presidential decree declaring sole ownership of the anthem. But in an interview in Mexico City with Reuters wire-service reporter Rene Villagas, Larrea Richerand acknowledged that the anthem is private property in the U.S., and in some cases still generating royalties for the copyright holder, Wagner House.
Mexican officials in Los Angeles say they have never been asked to pay for playing the anthem, according to Alberto Avila, a consulate spokesman. And in a press release, the Mexican secretary of education declared that despite the recent controversy, the anthem remains sovereign patrimony. But the controversy has some Mexicans who live in L.A. reeling at the power of free enterprise.
“This is absurd,” says Gregorio Luke, a former embassy official who now directs the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach. “That would be like 'The Star-Spangled Banner' belonging to a Mexican company.”
WAGES OF SIN
IT DIDN'T TAKE LONG FOR SOMEONE TO FIGURE OUT HOW to try and turn a buck on the current slew of deadly hate crimes, from the Jewish Community Center shootings in Granada Hills to the gun spree at the Baptist church in Fort Worth, Texas. This week, OffBeat received a fax inviting us to register our thoughts on gun control — “Is the wild west over?” — by return call — at $2.95 a minute. The solicitation from New Yorkbased 21st Century Fax LTD assured us that the results of the survey “will be presented to the President, the Attorney General, Congress, Handgun Control Inc., the NRA and the Governors of all 50 states of the Union.” When OffBeat tried to find the messengers of democracy, we learned that 21st Century isn't listed in NYC, the company's Web site has no contact information and the fax has no return fax number — an FCC no-no. But for those of you who find your hackles rising at the mention of pay-to-play opinion polls, rest assured: 21st Century says that $2.95 a minute is “a small price for a greater democracy.”
THE STREETS OF L.A. ARE BEING cleansed, for now, of those offensive, and offending, ABC-TV banners. Thanks in part to a Weekly investigation revealing that the city's Bureau of Street Services had routinely violated regulations by issuing banner permits to commercial enterprises, the city ordered the banners down last week. By Friday, many of the shots of Drew Carey, Jenna Elfman and Camryn Manheim had been whisked away.
Stay tuned, however. Within days of the expiration of a City Council moratorium on banners going up or down, it was business as usual. Four separate banner requests were made, asking the city to waive its fees — more than $13,800 in all — and in each case, the council gave its approval. The Millennium Auto Show, sponsored by the Van Nuys Boulevard automobile dealerships, and the Valley of the Stars campaign, an annual business booster for the Image Committee of the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley, were granted free advertising. And, during the moratorium itself, the council gave the Hollywood Entertainment District $8,000 in freebie banners, while slipping the Wilshire Chamber of Commerce a $13,800 handout.
How much longer will the City Council permit the pillaging of the public treasury? Perhaps not too much longer if a reform measure, pushed by council members, including Rita Walters, and designed to restrict fee waivers and reduce commercial sponsorship of banners, gets the votes it deserves. The question remains, will the current flap spill over into genuine reform?
L.A. TIMES CORPORATE HONCHO MARK WILLES — HE of the joint advertising/news-executive appointments and niche-market-driven copy — has made no secret of his desire to knock down the traditional wall separating business and editorial decisions at newspapers. Last week, he put his money where his mouth is by joining the board of directors of Mattel, makers of Barbie and her body-image-distorting progeny, and a major locally based employer (in El Segundo, with 29,000 workers worldwide). C'mon, Cap'n Crunch! You're not in Minneapolis (home to Willes' former employer General Mills cereals) anymore! Major news executives, including Wall Street Journal publisher Peter Kann and Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. will not serve on outside boards. (“Conflict of interest or the appearance of conflict of interest,” said WSJ spokesman Richard Tofel explaining the policy.) New York Times executives serve only on nonprofit boards, a spokeswoman said.
Or are we talking tie-ins? “Online tonight: Barbie chat about East Timor massacre!” Willes is also a director of Black & Decker Corp. and The Talbots Inc. Could there be toolbox or soft career-dressing features in Southern California Living's future? A Times spokeswoman says no. In an e-mailed response, Willes said that while he “very much respects” the views of CEOs who stay off boards, he does not share them.
“I believe Times Mirror can learn things from Mattel that will help us grow our newspapers,” he said. As for confilicts, Willes “always had and continue[s] to have complete confidence in the independence and integrity of our reporters and editors.” Look for publisher Barbie this holiday season.
TWO WEEKS AGO, THE DEMOCRATIC LEADERSHIP MUSCLED A SURPRISE BILL through the California Legislature to stop behemoth warehouse stores from selling groceries. The bill would bar relocation or expansion for most, if not all, of Costco's 88 California stores, as well as stem the growth of Kmart, Wal-Mart and Target superstores. Lawmakers say the measure was designed to help mom-and-pop groceries, which are facing the squeeze from soaring warehouse food sales, and unions, which have yet to gain a toehold in the big-box industry. The Democrats have been less forthcoming about their ties to another interest group with a stake in the issue: supermarket chains such as Ralphs, which compete with the discount superstores.
Ron Burkle is the chairman of the Yucaipa Co., which owns several grocery chains, including Ralphs. He is also one of Governor Gray Davis' top contributors. On September 4, 1998, Ralphs donated $5,000 to Davis' campaign fund. On the 28th of the same month, Yucaipa donated an additional $50,000 to the gubernatorial coffers. On the 24th, Ralphs also donated $15,000 to Senate President Pro Tem John Burton. Sharon Davis, the governor's wife, worked until last year for the Ralphs/Food 4 Less Foundation. One of Davis' very good friends, Darius Anderson, also worked for Ralphs, in corporate communications. (Anderson is now a much-sought-after Sacramento lobbyist.)
Burkle is also a major donor to Democrats at the national level. At a 1994 fund-raiser at Burkle's Beverly Hills home, President Bill Clinton personally thanked the supermarket magnate and his wife, Jan. Burkle and other family members contributed $235,000 from 1997 to 1999 to Democratic national campaigns, including $100,000 to the Democratic National Committee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics Web site. Now, OffBeat is no fan of big boxes, which have helped destroy downtown districts in small cities coast to coast. But we'd like to know whether we're watching a David-vs.-Goliath battle, or simply an intramural bout between competing special interests. “I've only heard [Burton] emphasize the mom-and-pop stuff,” said Senator Burton's spokesman, Dave Sebeck. No word from Davis' office on whether he will sign the bill.