All Australian citizens should be concerned about the way our country is governed. Many questions should be addressed, such as ‘who controls the papers that we read, the radio that we listen to; the television stations that we watch and the news providers on the Internet?’ Concentrated media ownership means that there can be no freedom of the press, if only a few powerful corporations are allowed to control it. Political parties and politicians are dependent upon the media to ensure their message is heard. It is common knowledge that media owners concentrate on getting their views favourably printed, and editors and journalists exert their influence in setting the public agenda.
The top ten daily Australian papers are controlled by either Murdoch or Fairfax interests. These newspapers are the Herald Sun, Daily Telegraph, Sydney Morning Herald, Courier Mail, West Australian, The Advertiser, The Age, The Australian Financial Review and The Mercury. The extensive population that reads these newspapers are under the influence of a concentrated media ownership, which does not necessarily give a fair and equitable account or accurate information.
News Corp, which is owned by the Murdoch’s, is a worldwide media conglomerate, which also owns around fifty percent of the Australian capital city daily papers as well as television media. John Fairfax Holdings (Rural Press Ltd.) owns twenty eight rural newspapers and a number of capital city daily papers. The Packers have a vast television and magazine empire. Murdoch owns three of Britain’s largest national papers, including the recently demised News of the World as well as satellite broadcasting companies in more than a dozen countries, book publishing companies, Festival Records and 20th Century Fox.
It is alarming and disconcerting to realise that since the 1960’s, around ninety percent of what Australians read in newspapers, hear on the radio and watch on television are the products of companies controlled by the Murdoch’s, Packer’s and Fairfax’s. During the 1970’s, Murdoch began buying properties in England, most notably BSkyB satellite system. In 1985, Murdoch became a U.S.citizen in order to meet regulatory requirements for the purchase of Federal Communication Commission controlled licences for the U.S. television industry.
Murdoch later expanded into Asia with Star TV, a satellite based system that broadcasts across many nations, particularly India and China, acquiring 64% of it in 1993. In 2002 Star TV posted a profit for the first time. Murdoch’s youngest son, James, and Rupert’s Chinese born wife Wendy Ding, ran Star TV jointly. Rupert’s daughter Elisabeth, served as a general manager of BSkyB in the 1990s, but has since left the company. She continues to be involved in mass media by running her own production company. The eldest son, Lachlan, is senior executive at News Corp.
The result of concentrated media ownership enables the individual who controls a large proportion of media that the public rely on, to showcase their views and opinions by subtly influencing the coverage of news events and the way they are portrayed. Politicians are dependent upon the support of the media outlets, in order to gain traction in their electorates. As the interface between politicians and votes, the media is uniquely placed to influence the outcome of elections.
The relationship between the media and advertisers means that the media are dependent upon advertisers for their profitability, which opens doors for major advertisers to influence the integrity of media, when it comes to reporting controversial topics, for example, conservation, global warming etc. The power exercised by companies seeking favourable reporting of their interests is discreet, hidden and can ultimately be subversive. The threat of withdrawing support from a media concern which could adversely affect their profitability, is often enough to ensure that the company gets favourable news coverage, which it may or may not deserve.
To achieve a healthy democracy it is imperative that citizens be fully informed on the issues facing them. Therefore, it is essential that people have access to information which is devoid of bias, and personal prejudices. A diverse media reflecting at the very least, the diverging viewpoints that exist in society will enable citizens to make informed decisions. When information is filtered, controlled and slanted to reflect viewpoints of an interested, influential and often wealthy group, informed decisions are unlikely to be possible. People will be manipulated to make decisions according to the whims of those who control the media. In a healthy democracy it is essential that everybody has access to information presented in the media, devoid of bias and prejudice which will enable them to make up their own minds and vote accordingly. If the media is controlled by a select few, citizens are at risk of receiving biased, inaccurate information and being manipulated into making decisions that are not necessarily in their own best interests.