Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hackgate: we must clip the wings of all press barons

 Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images Europe)

It's not just Murdoch. Getting rid of the old man may give us a warm feeling inside, and may indeed please News International shareholders, but the system will carry on with Business As Usual. Even the collapse of News International, and News Corps(e) would still leave other right-wing press barons still at work bending public opinion to their false world view.

We have to do more than sit back and enjoy the schadenfreude. We have to take action, ride the wave, and subtly direct the massive forces that have been unleashed by the News of the World phone hacking story.

Remember that dictators do not go quietly: remember that in Libya, Syria, Bahrein, Yemen and other places people are laying down their lives to rid themselves of dictatorships. We are not going to get rid of the rule of the media barons by watching telly.

Am I over egging the pudding by likening  Murdoch to a dictator? No. Clearly, he is not a physical dictator. He has no secret police, no prisons, no killers (we hope, anyway, assuming that poor Sean Hoar died of natural causes).

Murdoch and the other press barons are dictators of the mind. They dominate public opinion, set the agenda in which news is presented. And like physical dictators, they exercise absolute power. That is plain for all to see, when Prime Ministers bend the knee to him. The Hackgate scandal is about the overweening power of Murdoch, his corrupting influence both with police and politicians.

Establishment voices will try to deny the influence of papers. Already Alastair Campbell has declared that newspapers are all that important - bizarrely, given that his whole life's work is to try influence what they print.

The evidence that papers set the agenda of news is very clear. Here's Maxwell Coombs on the topic. Here's Coombs and Shaw showing how papers affect voters perceptions of the importance of topics.

McLeod, Becker and Burns tried to refute the agenda setting hypothesis, and found it to be limited in some areas (as is to be expected in any sociological matter) but did not manage to overthrow the fundamental truth that papers set the agenda.

Mass communications alter mass opinion. That is why advertisers advertise. That is why politicians crave access to broadcast and print media. That is why it is wrong that a few rich individuals or corporations should own large amounts of mass communication power. It is called concentration of media ownership.

Wikipedia (accessed 20/7/2011) summarises the the position in the UK:

In Britain and IrelandRupert Murdoch owns best-selling tabloid The Sun as well as the broadsheet The Times and Sunday Times, and 39% of satellite broadcasting network BSkyB.
BSkyB in turn owns a significant part of ITV plc and 5% of Shine Limited. ...In July 2011 the Murdoch-owned tabloid News of the World was shut down.
Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT) own The Daily Mail and The Mail on SundayIreland on Sunday, and free London daily Metro, and control a large proportion of regional media, including through subsidiary Northcliffe Media, in addition to large shares in ITN and GCap Media.
Richard Desmond owns OK! magazineChannel 5, the Daily Express and the Daily Star.
The Evening Standard and The Independent are both owned by Russian businessman and ex KGB agent Alexander Lebedev.
[The Telegraph is owned by the Barclay brothers.]

Between them, the Sun, Mail, Telegraph, Times, Star and Express have a readership of 18.7 million.

The Mirror, Guardian and Independent have a readership of 4.6 million.

Which means that rightish views outnumber leftish views in UK papers by 4 to 1.

This is clearly skewed, because rightish and leftish political votes are more or less balanced in elections.

Without the continual drip drip of rightist - sometimes extremely rightist - opinion in the press, politics in the UK would be a very different beast.

So we can conclude that we have a major bias towards the right due to the structure of press ownership in this backward little country of ours.

We must use the opportunity offered by Hackgate to rid ourselves not just of Murdoch, but of all the unaccountable press barons who are setting the political agenda.

To achieve this, we need to demand of our MPs that the ability of one corporation or individual to own more than one media outlet, or to own more than a small portion of the total outlet, should be radically reduced.

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