Tuesday, 23 April 2013

News Corporation - A media empire

News is a constructed social reality, not a mirror image of events. Therefore, it is important to investigate what is actually being constructed and what the social context is. Furthermore, it is essential to reveal the influence owners have on media corporations. This is essential because journalism is one of the world’s most important social, cultural, and political institutions.

The media shapes the way people see the world. Good, ethical journalism is tied with democracy. Journalists have the power to inform people’s political decisions. However, unethical journalism in the form of oligopolistic corporations can negatively influence people’s political decisions. Consequently, it is of paramount importance that people understand the power of media ownership.

The company I am choosing to investigate is News Corporation. The media mogul behind this company is the CEO, Rupert Murdoch. It has global interests with the leading share of the media market in Australia, China, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and United States of America. It has diversified companies covering television, newspapers, film, publishing, and sport. It is more commonly referred to as Newscorp.

Newscorp is one of the largest worldwide media conglomerates on the planet. It is able to attain oligopolistic control not only of a specific media industry, but of mass media as a whole. It does this through cross-ownership of various combinations of media enterprises, such as newspapers and television networks. The ownership and conglomeration of varied media businesses in one market allow Newscorp to maintain its controlling position as a media oligopoly. 

Newscorp sets media agendas. It can influence the mindset of mass amounts of people. What I intend to show through this article is how Newscorp can almost control the views and opinions of an entire nation. In Asia and America Murdoch’s media empire has a total audience of 4.7 billion people. Murdoch inherited his father’s business in 1953. Since then, he has gone on to create a multi-national corporation which employs over 31,000 people worldwide. These employees are very closely knit and their journalistic ethos is very similar. Consequently, we are force-fed agendas and policies approved by Murdoch in the form of broadcasting and publishing coming from divisions of Newscorp.

Newscorp rules the media world through its synergy. It attributes its global success to its vertical integration and horizontal integration. Some of the notable divisions of Newscorp include: Fox (Studios and Broadcasting), Sky, Wall Street Journal, New York Post, Harper Collins, American Idol, and News International. It is through these influential media outlets that we are suffocated with media agendas. Our understanding of cultural context comes from these divisions and thus opinions are formed. News is the social glue that connects society. It is through these facets of Newscorp that society as we see it is depicted.

Agenda setting is the process by which Newscorp presents certain issues frequently or prominently, resulting in the public perceiving those issues as being important. Newscorp have set agendas and their branches have very particular ways in how they put issues in the forefront of our minds and how they present those issues. This ultimately results in them deciding how we portray public figures. Newscorp can transfer their agendas internally within their media branches. This is then consumed by the political class who are seen as decision makers.

It is thought that the public require a story to be reported for at least three weeks for it to be important. Therefore, Newscorp can control what we perceive to be important news, by the amount of time it is reported on. This leads to gatekeeping. Gatekeeping is any action within a media organisation that involves selection or rejection of a potential item for publication or broadcast.

Overall, Newscorp embodies the theory of hegemony. The theory purports that the masses are controlled by an elite few, not through coercion but by manufacturing their consent. This is evident as Newscorp itself is run by the Murdoch dynasty. However, Newscorp owns a media empire across the globe with major holdings in United Kingdom (BSkyB and News International), Italy (Sky Italia), Germany (Sky Deutschland), New Zealand, (Harper Collins), Canada (Harper Collins), Australia (146 regional newspapers, including The Australian and Herald Sun), India (Star TV and Harper Collins), United States of America (Fox, National Geographic, WSJ, NYP, hulu.com, and Harper Collins). It also holds majority shares in social network site, MySpace, which creates revenue from across the globe.

Consent is manufactured in a variety of subtle ways in order for the elite to retain cultural control. It is an unquestioned order of society, because subconsciously the masses believe that this is the way things should be. An example of the control a media outlet has can be seen in America. In 2000, John Ellis was the head of the Fox News political analysis team. He is also the cousin of George Bush. In the early hours of November 8th, 2000, Fox News declared that George Bush had won the, impossible to call, pivotal state of Florida. This victory meant that Bush secured the 271 electoral votes needed to win the presidential election. In a matter of minutes, every other news station in America followed suit.

This controversial call was made at a time when the lead of George Bush was plummeting. The decision to call the vote in Florida was pivotal in the presidential election, and it was made by a channel that has forever supported the Republican party. Even now, the Florida result remains undecided. The unusual and unexplained coincidence of a disappearing margin for Bush and Fox’s unilateral call, combined with the secret communications between John Ellis and the Bush camp, provide sufficient thought that there may have been an illegal conspiracy to steel the election. This was fuelled by Fox, a division of Newscorp.

With every news channel declaring Bush had won the swing-state, it shows how consent can be manufactured in an unquestioned and subtle manner. Not only did Fox declare Florida to be a Republican victory, but so too did every other station. This meant that whatever channel people were watching, they were informed of a victory for Bush. A victory which transpired to be laced with controversy.

This embodies the dangers of media hegemony. A media owner can use their institution to further their own particular interests. In this case it was John Ellis, an integral member of Fox, using Fox News to further his interests in the presidential elections for his family member, George Bush. This media concentration leads to a reduction in the number of information sources and to uniformity of content. This results in misinformation being reported to the public. 

The rich and powerful class who own or control the media use them to maintain the status quo. Therefore, radical ideas are suppressed, ridiculed, or ignored, and attention is diverted from serious issues by a consent diet of trivia. Fox encapsulates the ethos of Newscorp. Since it's inception it has supported right-wing capitalism. In years gone by, Fox aired pro-Reagan propaganda while it has slated the Kennedy family. Roger Aisles, president of Fox News, was head of propaganda for Republican presidents Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, and George Bush Snr. 

David Brock, CEO of Media Matters of America has stated that: “Murdoch has no objectivity”. Newscorp is so powerful that they can openly air biased reports. All Fox contributors are on annual contracts. However, Fox ensure that well respected figureheads of conservative America speak on air, while only inviting liberal speakers who are not highly educated and thus utter inane ramblings on air. Murdoch does not even attempt to hide his pro-right capitalistic agenda through Fox.

Divisions of Newscorp have the power to act together to stamp out competition and this leads to this hegemonic society. Newscorp helps to recruit and maintain support for a single set of attitudes, ignoring others of equal validity. These ideas are then seen by more people as normal. Such opinions are not spread in a cynical way; they are simply what those who work in Newscorp consider to be reasonable and true.

The ideologies of Newscorp are compiled of capitalistic and right-wing political attitudes. Undoubtedly, Newscorp has a leading role in all facets of media. As previously mentioned, vertical integration is the method behind the global expansion and global influence of Newscorp. Vertical integration occurs when an organisation established in one part of the production chain gains control of other parts of the production process.

In relation to Newscorp, this can be seen as it diversifies into various parts of the production process. Fox studios produces a programme which is then broadcast on Sky Television. News Printers Groups owned by Newscorp then prints the paper needed for News International which consists of The Sun, The Times, and The Sunday Times to promote the original product which is being broadcast. It is a carefully run system which Murdoch and Newscorp have full control over.

This vertical integration promotes shows that are aired on Sky. For example, before Sky acquired rights to broadcast Formula 1, and subsequently created a channel devoted solely to Formula 1 racing, it never reported on the sport. It never advertised or even commented on it until this deal was secured in early 2012. It was as if this sport, which started in 1947, did not exist until 2012. 

In sporting terms, the same can be seen with football. Sky has a majority share of the rights to air English Premier League and Scottish Premier League matches, as well as European Cup matches. As a result, their sports news channel focuses solely on English and Scottish football. A viewer of Sky Sports News would not be aware of world class football leagues across the globe. Football leagues which are arguably played at a much higher standard than those in Britain. 

However, because BSkyB do not have the rights, they do not report on any football news coming from these football hotbeds across Europe. Even Sky Italia and Sky Deutschland have restricted coverage of football matches played in their respective countries. As Sky is the leader of broadcasting, the public consequently do not have the full spectrum of sporting options available and are forced to divulge in a small selection of European football.

Along with vertical integration, horizontal integration has been omnipotent in the success of Newscorp. Horizontal integration is when a media organisation gains control of their competitors within that segment of the production process. In terms of Newscorp, this is evident as The Sun, The Times, The Australian, The WSJ, The NYP, The Irish Sun, The Papua New Guinea Post-Courier, and The Sunday Times, to name but a few newspapers, are all under the control of Newscorp. 

This expansion and takeover of similar companies wipes out competition and leads to agendas being set upon people reading the majority of papers across the globe. Newspapers account for just under 16% of revenue received by Newscorp, which amounts to a figure of $4.5 billion. The kingpin of Murdoch’s newspaper empire comes in the form of News International, based in Britain.

The main holdings of News International are The Sun, The Times, and The Sunday Times. The now defunct News of the World was also a leading newspaper within this organisation. News International was purchased by Murdoch in 1969 and has developed into a highly successful division of Newscorp. Like other divisions such as Fox, News International sets many agendas too. It advocated strong support for both the Falklands War and for the War on 'Terror'. 

Characteristics of hegemony are seen in the form of favouring consensus politics. In 1997, News International strongly supported Tony Blair’s Labour campaign, and in particular  their anti-tax policies. However in recent times it has swung support to the Conservative party under the leadership of David Cameron, who is good friends with Rupert Murdoch which is surely no coincidence.

Although News International has great influence on the newspaper readership of Britain, it has come under pressure recently in the form of the Leveson inquiry. The Leveson inquiry has the potential to change the format of print journalism forever through changes in the NUJ Code of Conduct. It originated from alleged phone hacking carried out by employees of News of the World, a tabloid newspaper belonging to the News International family.

This has resulted in Rebekah Brooks, former editor of News of the World, being charged and is awaiting trial in September of 2013. The phone hacking revelations and the inquiry which followed are sure to have negative affects on Murdoch and his media empire. Murdoch himself, along with his son James, was called in front of the inquiry to answer questions relating to their journalistic practices and ethos.

Indeed Newscorp is an extremely powerful company. However, constraints may stem from the Leveson inquiry, which shows that no matter how powerful the corporation may be, it is not untouchable. Another example of a regulatory body, similar to the Press Complaints Commission, which has brought constraints on Newscorp is Ofcom.

Stemming from the Leveson inquiry, Ofcom are carrying out an investigation into another division of Newscorp, namely, BSkyB. Ofcom has a duty under the Broadcasting Acts 1990 and 1996 to be satisfied that any person holding a broadcasting licence is, and remains, fit and proper to do so. The regulatory body is continuing to assess the evidence that may assist it in discharging these duties which includes assessment of the Leveson inquiry.

Ofcom have written to and have met with relevant authorities to explain their duty to be satisfied that persons holding broadcasting licences are fit and proper. They have asked them to keep Ofcom informed of any information which may assist them in assessing whether BSkyB, including controlling directors and shareholders of Newscorp, is and remains fit and proper to continue to hold its broadcast licences.

As this is an ongoing duty, there is no fixed date by which Ofcom must draw a conclusion. Ofcom assess all the relevant evidence and will come to a decision in due course. Although Newscorp is a powerful multi-national media empire, it will not always abide by certain constraints, even though the Leveson inquiry has the power to transform journalism as we know it. 

This investigation is not the first BSkyB have been subjected to. In 2003, Sky attempted to purchase Manchester United, a leading football club in England, for £623 million. The Competition Commission, an independent public body, conducted an in-depth inquiry into this takeover. Subsequently, the Office of Fair Trade ruled that no media company should be allowed to own over 10% stake in a football club.

Murdoch, who appears repeatedly when Newscorp is mentioned in the news, bears the accumulated meaning of his past appearances because he is embodied in an individual character which can be seen as more powerful than the corporation itself. No matter how much bad press Newscorp receives, Murdoch will still be seen as a powerful figurehead. 

Indeed the times are changing, and journalism will have to change too. The evolution of journalism can not be ignored. Whether it is through a more electronic form of journalism, or through changes in journalism ethics as a consequence of the Leveson inquiry; either way, journalism is evolving.

Having said that, Newscorp, under the leadership of Murdoch, still holds an almighty amount of power in the media world, even with certain constraints placed upon his company. The general concept of news is that it offers a window on the world. However this idea is obviously flawed. The news cannot cover every event that happens in the world, and so events are carefully selected on the basis of what is deemed more newsworthy.

As I previously explained, through both vertical and horizontal integration, Newscorp owns a sizable amount of the world’s media. In a society which is utterly perpetuated by popular media every minute of the day. Our lives are controlled by the news media - whether radio, television, print, or on the web. However, despite supplying us with all of our daily information, the media does nothing to ensure unbiased, objective reporting. Sensation has become a mainstay of our capitalist society. Sensationalise, shock, to sell more papers, to get more viewers, more listeners.

For example, once a story is chosen to be reported there is a further threshold of drama. The bigger the story, the more added drama is needed to keep it going. A good example of this is the death of Princess Diana, where we saw twenty-four hour television coverage on Sky News, a division of Newscorp, which was filled-out with items that would not normally reach national television, such as primary schools commemorating her life. Events which in themselves would normally not reach the threshold of newsworthiness were made into dramatic stories in order to keep viewers tuned into Sky.

As society stands in its current form of accepting the news we are fed from intertwined media corporations, nothing will drastically change. Newscorp can have constraint after constraint placed upon them, but they will still be revered as a media powerhouse. Unless people en masse, take a stand against Murdoch and his corporation, nothing will change. The majority of people are apathetic towards Newscorp. Subsequently, the reign of Murdoch and his media empire looks set to continue for many years to come. 

S.DAWSON 24/04/13

No comments:

Post a Comment