On Media Ownership And The Informed Opinion

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Why on earth would anyone want to be a journalist? Many a doe-eyed new entrant approaches media institutions, the gilded fourth estate, with eager awe and anticipation. The Andrew Marrs’ and Anna Politkovskayas’ of the future amble on toward a career of substance, of worthy truths and holding power to account. Few of them notice the branded signs adorned above the shiny glass double doors when they enter  – News Corporation it reads, TimeWarner, another – but instead they draw a collective sigh of relief and draw strength from the fact that at least they didn’t sell out. Forward to a career where you speak your mind and have people listen.

Onward to a life of real journalism.

Of course, people do listen. The elemental burden of an informed opinion constitutes the basis of the democratic process. The power behind the media lies in this very fact; Media has the singular ability to captivate and direct our attention in which ever way it chooses. This lends itself conveniently to the grander schemes of the political, corporate and power hungry elite. Get in with that lot and they would have a direct influence over our opinions and choices. Our desires, our dreams, our aspirations and our votes – all up for grabs. Mass media therefore, in all its forms and outlets, becomes the all purpose megaphone which enables those who wish to make us follow suit, shut up and cough up and do so smiling. The ones who sit at the top of tree, the ones who hold the megaphones, are more than mere ‘owners’ in industry. They become amongst the most influential people in the world.

Orson Welles in Citizen Kane barked at his editor once: “People will think what I tell them to think!” The demagogic story of Kane was a thinly disguised nod to real-life media magnate William Randolph Hearst, a man whose ear was coveted most notably by John F. Kennedy amongst others. In 2008, high into the campaign season, Barack Obama sat knee to knee with a certain Rupert Murdoch – the Hearst of the present day – explaining why it’d be in both their interests if he won. He’d sell more papers. This side of the Atlantic also, Rupert Murdoch has been described as the 24th member of Blair’s cabinet by Alistair Campbell on more than one occasion:

“His presence was always felt. No big decision could ever be made inside No.10 without taking account of the likely reaction of three men, Gordon Brown, John Prescott and Rupert Murdoch. On all the really big decisions, anybody else could safely be ignored.”

News Corporation, Murdoch conglomerate owns the most widely read UK news publications in The Sun, News Of The World, The Times and has around 37% daily and 39% of Sunday newspaper sales. Both these figures are above the 20% share circulation set by the government. This is a man whose media empire is above and beyond restrain, and in today’s state of economic flux Murdoch continues to amass an empire that even Kane would be in awe of. His reputation as a ruthless tycoon makes for interesting debate among those who hold the media and its proprietors as complicit in the workings and sanctity of a democratic society. Murdoch himself denies crossing any of these fishy moral quandaries. Using the powers at his behest, the many arms of his media empire to impart far-right agendas? Surely not.

In 2002 UK rules on foreign ownership in media were relaxed. By that time Murdoch had firmly become a broad New Labour supporter prompting suggestions that the proposed bill had a ‘Murdoch Clause’ where they were perhaps doing him a favour in lieu of his backing. rupertcaricature1More recently Andrew Grice in a 2007 article for The Independent disclosed some of the details of conversations between Murdoch and Tony Blair in the run up to the Iraq War. Blair had phoned Murdoch on the 11th, 13th and the 19th of March 2003, a day before the British and U.S led war on Iraq began. Grice goes on to mention another date of a call between the two on the 25th April 2004. This would place the call shortly after Blair had been pressured to acquiesce to to a referendum on the E.U constitution. A bill that in Murdoch’s words, when attending a business conference a few days later, would “…deter investment in Europe which would over-regulate every business and everybody.” The subsequent U-turn in government policy has always been a source of controversy. He denies any influence and has made sure the people who are supposed to be finding out if this is so, don’t. Yet Murdoch’s links to close quarters of political power seem to be in direct conflict with the notion of free press.

Professor Noam Chomsky credits political commentator and newsman Walter Lippman with the term ‘manufactured consent’. He explains it thus:

“By manufacturing consent, you can overcome the fact that formally a lot of people have the right to vote. We can make it irrelevant because we can manufacture consent and make sure that their choices and attitudes will be structured in such a way that they will always do what we tell them even if they have a formal way to participate.”

Chomsky, in his analysis of media and those who are complicit, journalists are merely willing puppets via which the elite agenda is filtered through unto the public. This is not some loony indoctrination method deployed by Murdoch’s minions once the eager few pass through those double doors fresh faced and hungry. Many established journalists maintain that they got where they are because they preserve a sense of objectivity and due professionalism. But lets look at the reasons behind why they are the ones in these positions. There is no reason why the likes of Murdoch would allow critical analysis upon themselves. Why would he? But this is not done through subjective censorship. It is because  their career may not have gone as well had they not been correctly socialized in the first place. So that as Chomsky puts it; “…there are some thoughts you just don’t have, because if you did have them, you wouldn’t be there.” Those doe-eyed new entrants had been gotten long before they passed through these shiny double doors.

If Murdoch and Berlusconi et al. came out tomorrow and conceded that yes they indeed do have a say, as proprietor of businesses, over how the business is run. What could we say? They are selling a product, why would they want to sell anything but their own idealisms? The problem is, media is ours too and we, also, are the product. Our opinion is our value. The denials peddled out by these moguls, about how much influence they hold over editorial content, are borne out of our own prerequisite notions of what the media stands for. It is the nature of our faith in the institution itself that wants to make sure that what we are being told is not being manipulated. It is in the benefit of democracy and in the benefit of our piece of mind. The men with the megaphones have a lot of admirers wanting to inform us about our choices. We could, perhaps, choose not to listen.

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3 thoughts on “On Media Ownership And The Informed Opinion

  1. Fox News, Fox News affiliates, News Corp and the Murdoch employees, friends and family are so pro-conservative Republican, it’s absolutey tainted news and biased reporting. It’s sickening, sickening, sickening! Boycott, boycott, boycott!

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