Convergence No More?

The News International scandal has provoked plenty of – rather belated – discussion on how global media ownership has become concentrated into the hands of a few (media convergence). Rupert Murdoch seems to have regarded his corporation as being above the law, and more powerful than national governments, but, up until this point, no one has challenged his right to own so much of the media that no one felt comfortable speaking against him.

Former Newspaper editor Bruce Guthrie outlines the impact Murdoch-driven convergence had in his native Australia. Murdoch owns 70% of all newspapers Down Under. This means that if, like Bruce Guthrie, you are involved in a court case against Murdoch’s News Limited, the outcome of the case is unlikely to receive much press attention, even if it involves the CEO spending a day lying in the witness box:

The judge in the case had this to say about the News Limited CEO: “There were aspects about his evidence which lead me to be cautious about accepting a number of critical features of it.”

Of course, no readers of News Limited papers ever got to read the judge’s comments or similar ones he made about other News witnesses. They simply chose not to report his misgivings. Fairfax did, though. And the ABC. But almost 70 per cent of Australia’s major newspapers didn’t.

That’s the thing about having such enormous media power – you can pretty much create your own reality. It requires a great sense of responsibility, but clearly News Corporation, in Britain at least, has failed that test.

For years, governments have stood by and watched large media conglomerates gobble up smaller companies so they could create their own reality, and write their own cheques. Despite its profits in the UK, News International made judicious use of offshore havens in order to avoid paying the full whack of taxes – this is despite (or perhaps because of) the influence Murdoch so clearly enjoyed having over the leadership of successive UK governments. In the US, Fox News sets many political agendas despite, again, News Corp paying anything like their full obligation of taxes on US profits. Representation without taxation.

The current, ever-burgeoning scandal has achieved what no amount of hand-wringing on the part of legislators and media commentators could do: it’s blown open the pretence that it was OK to have a single corrupt corporate culture set the national media agenda. Politicians are elected and accountable; hundreds of them rose and fell while Murdoch remained remote and untouchable, but just as influential. Not any more.

As News International crumbles under pressure from shareholders and governments alike, a lot of pertinent questions are being asked about media ownership. Why haven’t these questions been asked before? Why haven’t the public seemed to care that so much power and influence was concentrated into the hands of an unelected, unaccountable few? Well, they obviously didn’t take Media Studies at school.

The Manifesto For Media Education has this to say:

What is being exposed here the fact that one man and his family, has dominated UK Media, moulding it, and so society with it, into a shape that suited their needs. Whether this is how celebrities or royalty are seen, how politicians should be treated, how sections of the society are represented or how we should see the nation as whole. All this has a very visible, tangible and actual affect on the way we perceive, behave and respond. If we accept this process happens and if we don’t equip young people with the tools to deconstruct their experience, to look behind the representations and the stories, then there is the risk that the media will remain too influential.

That’s why Media Studies is so vital – it’s about creating the understanding that EVERYTHING in the media is constructed and so has the finger/thought prints of those constructed all over it. So asking WHY are things being constructed in certain ways is essential – otherwise naturalised American-Australian families with crap glasses get to shape how WE perceive the world.

Rupert’s Gorilla Tactics – Sydney Morning Herald
Hacking Scandal Shows Why Media Education Is So Essential– Manifesto For Media Studies