In democracies, the news media has the privileged position of being able to hold those in power accountable. Its freedom to do so must be protected at all costs.
George Orwell, wrote: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
With such power comes responsibility: The media must be accountable and also has responsibilities –– to uphold the law, respect the truth and protect the liberties of individuals. This is why the Leveson Inquiry into press practices was so significant, as it revealed the way some journalists from certain news organizations believed that they were above the law or that their disregard for it would not be discovered.
Holding the press accountable for their actions is absolutely essential because knowledge and information is power. This is why it is right to be suspicious of media monopolies.
It would take up too much space to list the resources media tycoon Rupert Murdoch owns or controls. Among his assets are 20th Century Fox, Fox Television, Fox News, Fox International, Star TV, majority shares in the National Geographic Channel, Fox Interactive Media (including 5 percent of Myspace), 29 magazines around the world, including Gentleman’s Quaterly Australia and Modern Boating, News International, a huge newspaper empire that covers almost every newspaper in each Australian suburb, the New York Post, the Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones, HarperCollins –– the list could go on.
This means that when you see a movie, watch a television program, pick up a magazine, newspaper or book anywhere in the world, there is a good chance that you are consuming something owned or controlled by Murdoch.
This convergence of ownership across media and communication platforms is reason for concern, and the scale of ownership across national boundaries surpasses the resources and power of the so-called British press barons of the 19th and early 20th century.
When reading about the protests in Taiwan against media monopolies, I have been struck by the ease with which defenders of the Want Want group resort to the same old argument that many in their position use when challenged about ownership: “If you do not like what we say, change the channel, buy another newspaper, turn off your television.”
However, if we take the Murdoch empire as an example, it becomes increasingly difficult to find another channel or buy another newspaper that is not owned by the same organization and does not reflect its political or commercial agenda or those of the man who owns it.
Media monopolies in democratic societies undermine the idea of a free media market, free entry to that marked, equal competition and, above all, access to a diversity of views, information and opinion.
Gary Rawnsley is professor of international communications at the University of Leeds in the UK.