Friday, April 20, 2012

Rupert Murdoch's empire

This blog will look at network television and how it represents hegemony. Fox News will be considered particularly as it exhibits extreme propaganda and goes against the fundamentals of journalism that are in place for democratic reasons. When considering network television and aspects regarding ownership and the functioning of a democracy I will consider the world-renowned linguist, intellectual and political activist Noam Chomsky’s propaganda model and how this model reflects how the media controls ideologies. The concept of agenda-setting will be brought to light and a brief outline of the transformation of media will be highlighted so as to show the effect it has on a democracy and the practice of journalism. Lastly, but most importantly, the threat and consequences that a hegemonic model has for society will be shown.

Hegemony refers to the ‘process of moral, philosophical and political leadership that a social group attains only with the active consent of other important social groups’ (Artz, 2003: 10). Although hegemony is not a communication process per se, cultural and political discourses must reflect, organise, and interact with other social practices. Hegemony must be constructed using some of the ideas and concerns of all groups (Artz, 2003: 16). If it does not, it clearly goes against hegemonic and democratic practices. Democracy refers to a government that is ruled by the people, in other words it is a system of government that allows citizens to rule in the sense that they hold the power to vote; they have the right to take part in decision-making processes (Encarta, 2008).

The film Outfoxed examines how media empires led by Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, have been operating and highlights the dangers of ever-enlarging corporations taking control of the public’s right to know. Rupert Murdoch’s Total Audience is 4, 7 billion people (Greenwald, 2004). That is three-quarters of the population, so his corporation alone has a virtual monopoly. Fox News pushes the envelope to the extreme in favouritism of right-wing politics and conservatism (Greenwald, 2004). Not allowing the public to know exactly what is going on in an objective way goes against people’s right to freedom of information and goes against democratic principles. Propaganda is to a democracy what violence is to a dictatorship (Chomsky, 1992).

In South Africa we have the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and ETV. The SABC is a public service broadcaster owned by the government, while ETV is a commercial broadcaster. While one may assume that the SABC is biased toward the government and that ETV favours the views of advertisers it is clearly not the case. The Media Monitoring Project (MMP) a non-governmental organisation found in a six day monitoring period of SABC 3, that 94% of the coverage was fair (Pretorius, 2006).

However, the size of the SABC provides it with an uncompetitive advantage. With four television channels and twenty-one radio stations, they are able to offer advertising packages, which other broadcasters cannot match (Golding, 2003). They also have the ability to monopolise their audience by using multiple channels to promote their services whereas ETV only has one channel. It is the only broadcaster in South Africa which operates national commercial radio services, and this provides them with a sizeable advantage over their private sector competitors (Golding, 2003).

Fox deliberately instils fear in the American public so they can begin to hate ‘terrorists’ particularly (Greenwald, 2004). This is only one example, but there are many monopolies controlling the media and they have the power to indoctrinate the minds of citizens who believe that they are living in a democratic society. Chomsky notes that the media can marginalise and control the public (Chomsky, 1992) and Outfoxed shows how Fox News does this. While the SABC also holds a virtual monopoly they are not a propaganda model and are certainly not as biased as Fox News who would be considered to be on the extreme end of the scale.

The media plays a major part in the development of often serious misperceptions. Misperceptions can distort public opinions and may produce policies contrary to the public’s wishes. Generally, Fox News viewers have the most misperceptions (Kull, Ramsay & Lewis, 2003: 115) Perhaps one could say that the NPR/PBS audience are more educated. It is important to note that with saying this, we have to acknowledge that this ‘intelligent’ audience is choosing not to be educated by Fox News. This is a question that requires an answer. One of which could be that they realise how biased and opinionated the Fox News network is.
Another question that can be raised is whether there is evidence that Fox News viewers are less informed than NPR/PBS viewers. An answer could be that they are less informed and are being misled, but do not know any better and on the other hand the question can be answered by saying that they are no less smart, but merely choose to watch Fox News because they represent the views held by them, the viewers.

There is the saying ‘You are what you eat’. The same could be said in this sense ‘You are what you read’. Importantly though, people have a choice as to what they read and often read what they like, just as they eat what they enjoy. So perhaps, audiences want to be pleased by hearing assumptions and views they hold. Therefore, it could be said that they choose to be misled in the direction in which they are opinionated anyway. Perhaps, some people do not want objective news but only news that supports their opinions and beliefs. Fox news as an example could be seen as fair and balanced in the eyes of many conservatives.

Art is at its most dangerous when it is disguised as truth (Rosen, 1992: 7). This is the problem with journalism that fails to be objective. Propaganda becomes ideology which in turn becomes common sense (Artz, 2003: 11). Common sense based on bias is extremely dangerous as it can have life-long consequences on a society that has been indoctrinated by inaccurate or biased media. Numerous questions have been raised about the long-term damage that flows from the distortion and concealment of information (Hachten & Hachten, unknown: 317).

Often with the media, the public does not really get to participate. They only receive information. Fox News is not only a news organisation, but also a proponent of a point of view and uses the news as a political device (Greenwald, 2004). That is not a news organisation. News is supposed to be in essence factual and should not have a point of view. Having a point of view means having an opinion and having one means one is biased and that is not in favour of the broader public but only in favour of those whose interests need to be served, those who hold power.

The power that Murdoch holds is dangerous. He has a political background and now uses the media as his power to portray his ideologies. Corporate control over the media is a major political issue. It needs to be stopped or it will continue to serve the interests and present the views of corporate shareholders, the elite and advertisers only (Greenwald, 2004).

Jeff Cohen a former Fox News contributor says that the media is imperative for the economy to function. What people learn is only what the media decides to show or tell them. He refers to the media as the nervous system of a democracy (Greenwald, 2004) and yes, journalism is imperative for the functioning of a democracy because in order for the people to rule they should know exactly what is going on in the world and especially in their country. However, with the radical change of the media towards corporate interests as opposed to journalistic interests like objectivity and truthfulness, democracy is not being practiced as the people are not learning all they should and in the way they should. Not having a media system goes against the idea of a democracy, but media that does not serve all is not a democratic media either.

A propaganda model looks at the inequality of wealth and power and the numerous effects it has on the mass media’s interests and choices. It looks at the routes by which power and money are able to sort out the news to be printed, marginalise dispute, and give the government and dominant private investors the power to get their messages across to the public (Chomsky, 1988: 2).

Agenda setting controls the kinds of information we hear, in other words, what information becomes available (Chomsky, 1992). Now Murdoch orders propaganda and tells his journalists what stories to cover. Reporters just have to execute the plan; they have no choice, unless they want to sacrifice their job of course (Greenwald, 2004). Fox News claims to have fine and balanced journalism: ‘We report. You decide’. Fox News has a point of view. They are a conservative news network. Murdoch controls what they say and how reporters present the news. Reporters clearly have a point of view and do not leave conflicting point of views open to discussion (Greenwald, 2004).

Chomsky notes that we live entangled in a web of endless deceit and that we live in a highly indoctrinated society. We are indoctrinated by the media through dominant ideologies portrayed that often has the aim of discouraging independent thinking and opinions. Indoctrination is now the essence of a democracy because it is the only way to control how people think without using force as with a Totalitarian state for example. So what people think can only be controlled by controlling what people know and what information is made available. So because of this, the media may resort to propaganda, the manufacture of consent, the creation of necessary illusions according to Chomsky (Chomsky, 1992).

It is important to note that Outfoxed tries to ‘outfox’ Fox News. They do this by giving Fox a taste of their own medicine by resorting to the same tactics. This doesn’t work because Outfoxed is meant to be a documentary. Documentary is seen as part of the process of examination described by Foucault as ‘a procedure of objectification and subjection’ (Price, 1997: 96). The documentary gaze should be anchored in facts and should validate particular kinds of enquiry (Price, 1997: 91). Now by only placing the ways in which Fox News is biased is in itself bias because Outfoxed does not consider Fox News objectively. In this way, they are doing the same thing that Fox News is doing by only bringing out the bad of the opposing side. So, while Fox News goes against journalistic principles, Outfoxed is going against documentary principles. When one critiques documentaries it is not about whether the work adequately reveals or reflects a pre-existing reality, but whether the way the chosen signifying systems imposed order and create particular sets of meaning (Price, 1997: 95).

Media’s primary news source has shifted significantly over the years from newspapers to television and now online media. People are particularly interested in watching the news on television so as to actually see what is happening all over the world. In South Africa we have a fairly democratic media system and are not in as much danger as Americans who get brainwashed by propaganda. During the Gulf war people were glued to their television sets to keep updated, and naturally the governments of Iraq and America tried to control and manipulate the media with propaganda intended to mislead the enemy and not to inform the public (Hachten & Hachten, unknown: 318).

In many cases the national media sets a general agenda, the elite media are the agenda-setting media (Chomsky, 1992). Thereafter, local media adapts because it is more cost-efficient and because they lack the resources or funds to follow stories themselves. The problem with a general agenda is that it is already decided and does not allow for fair and balanced output of information via the media. It also caters to interest groups only and not to the broad public (Haupt, 2008).

Sourcing mass-media news occurs often as syndicated news, which is the circulation of narrow news perspectives like Associated Press (AP), and Reuters (Haupt, 2008). The reason why this occurs is often because of budgetary allowances, but it is a problem as the public receives the same news perspectives from various sources. This impinges upon their right to know all that is going on because they are only getting the viewpoint of one source and who is to say that this one source can be trusted as reliable if nobody else has anything else to say. Various media outlets are essential for healthy competition and the promotion of objective news.

Journalists are meant to inform and educate citizens so that they may engage in rational and critical debate about the common good – therefore the public’s expectation is objectivity and balance (Haupt, 2008). Clearly, one needs to note that there are people who own the country because they are affluent and have access to large sums of money, and they are not going to let the country get out of control (Chomsky, 1992). This includes the government who will not allow their image to be tarnished. The government has the capacity to manipulate the news, impose its own agenda and can deliberately divert attention away from material which they wish to (Chomsky, 1988: 2). Privatisation has made the media more bias; it has allowed media companies to get so large that they lose sight of the original goal, that being honest journalism. They are blinded by new goals, which are naturally money as we are living in a capitalist economy (Haupt, 2008).

If a country does not have an independent and objective media, then it is not democratic. Consumers primarily do not keep the media functioning, but rather the advertisers and shareholders, so in essence their concerns will be prioritised higher than those of consumers (Greenwald, 2004). This is undemocratic as it does not serve the needs of all equally, but foremost the needs of elite interest groups. Only the rich can afford to start a newspaper or television network for instance because of the large investment this kind of business requires (Chomsky, 1988: 4). Everybody has a point of view or an agenda. Money allows one the power to make that view explicit. If one has access to large sums of money like Murdoch, it opens doors to a wide array of media outlets and can lead to a virtual monopoly and thus affects media hegemony dramatically (Chomsky, 1988: 5).

The media system requires an equal playing field with more competitors so an array of ideas can be portrayed rather than just the ideas of an elite few who have access to money and power. There should be limitations to the amount of amalgamations in the media as the more one group controls the media, the more dangerous it is in terms of a citizen’s right to a democracy because it can indoctrinate people’s views. The dominant media firms are large businesses controlled by very wealthy people who are subjected to many restraints by owners and other profit-orientated forces, and who also have common interests with other major corporations, banks, and government (Chomsky, 1998: 14).

The media has the power to ensure that we do not act on our responsibilities by not informing us, the general public. They are capable of diluting and manipulating the system as well as the minds of the broader public. As said before, if a country does not have an independent and objective media, then it is not democratic. Leaving control in the hands of so few people is thus not only undemocratic, but unhealthy and dangerous too because people are being indoctrinated and are often not even aware of it. They do not have the capacity to make sound decisions and to have their own opinions as they just don’t know what is going on in the world, they only know what is portrayed to them and so often assume that what is portrayed is true.

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