Wednesday, 22 December 2010
Rupert Murdoch and the "free" media
Anyone who has ever thumbed through a copy of Rupert Murdoch's The Sun newspaper would be hard-pressed to find any worthwhile contribution to British cultural life contained within its pages.
Perusing the ample column inches dedicated to celebrity and Royal gossip (who on earth is Kerry Katona and why do you care?), one is reminded of the description given of Cuban Communist newspaper, Granma, by the late Argentinean editor and dissident Jacobo Timerman, who described his encounter with the newspaper as "a degradation of the act of reading".
Business Secretary Vince Cable's boast to two giggling undercover reporters that he had "declared war on Mr Murdoch" has led to him being removed from the decision-making process over Mr Murdoch's BSkyB takeover in favour of Jeremy Hunt, a man who has previously expressed admiration for BSkyB:
"Rather than worry about Rupert Murdoch owning another TV channel, what we should recognise is that he has probably done more to create variety and choice in British TV than any other single person because of his huge investment in setting up Sky TV which, at one point, was losing several million pounds a day."
"Choice" in Mr Hunt's terms refers of course to the distinction between hundreds of channels offering as many variations as possible of Road Wars and Airport, and news channels where flashing "breaking news" over even the most mundane story is customary.
Now that Cable is out of the way, it seems likely that Hunt will ease through Mr Murdoch's proposals for a full takeover of BSkyB, with sources close to the company even saying privately that the chances of its bid for BSkyB succeeding have increased dramatically since the departure of Cable. As a result of Cable's gaffe, it may also be easier for News Corp to mount a legal challenge if the culture secretary's decision does not go in it's favour.
In practice, full control of BSkyB opens the way for Murdoch to turn his Sky News channel into a fully-fledged British version of Orwellian US counterpart, "fair and balanced" Fox News.
In an interview with The Guardian, Mark Thompson, the director general of the BBC, says he and Murdoch share a belief that the UK would benefit from a strong, “opinionated” news channel and that Murdoch told him that “he would like" Sky News to go down a polemical "Fox-style" route.
Anybody who has ever tuned into Fox News will be well aware of the poison the station pumps out in-lieu of news, from whipping up fear and hatred towards Muslims to fawning over career crooks and charlatans like the late Jerry Falwell.
Yet, in the age of market fundamentalism, any opposition to this distorted version of "freedom of the press" - in reality it costs several million pounds to own a newspaper or television station - is met with a rather predictable "well, what's the alternative?", as if any opposition to one man using the media as his personal propaganda-machine is the advocation of the system of Kim Jong-il.
More importantly, none of us voted for Rupert Murdoch. The call for a democratic media to prevent a select-few barons controlling the entire political and cultural information-gateway is a demand for greater plurality, not a call for less. Anyone who meekly suggests that the ownership of the mass media as it stands is "a price worth paying" when compared to the worst imaginable alternative must take responsibility for this "price", not only in terms of the rampant prejudice, homophobia and sexism pumped out by the British media, but also the consequences of such prejudices on government policy and every-day attitudes and their expression, rather than simply imagining the media to operate in a cultural void, detached from real-life implications.
To use the term "freedom" in relation to how media ownership is currently constituted is to do that very modern thing of using idealistic language that is devoid of all idealistic content.