Democrats, socialists, and other liberals are pushing an agenda described as “left-wing” for historical reasons we need not venture into. The liberal platform is slowly winning in the eyes of many, the Western world being far more “liberal” now than it was fifty, thirty, or even ten years ago. But the Right has put up many obstacles – it has not been a “primrose path” to personal freedom. The conservatives have won battles along the way, slowing down what some see as an inevitable shift onwards to the left.
Currently, the most powerful people in the conservative world (at least in the United States) would seem to be President George W. Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft. Bush has been pushing a strong ideology of war, traditional family values, and tax cuts that favor the rich. Ashcroft has spearheaded this country’s program to arrest and detain non-citizens without charges and to increase the power of police and federal authorities by stripping the average American of his or her constitutional and civil rights. But these two men are only secondary figures when compared to the real force in conservatism today: Rupert Murdoch, the head of News Corporation.
Who is Rupert Murdoch?
Rupert Keith Murdoch was born in Australia in 1931. His father, Keith Arthur Murdoch, was a journalist and, like his son, a media mogul. Rupert was educated at Oxford University, where he was active in the Labour Club and favored Austalia’s Labour Party..Sometime since college, however, his views shifted strongly to the right.
“Murdoch is generally regarded as the single most politically influential media proprietor in the world, and is regularly courted by politicians, especially current and past British and Australian Prime Ministers, who attempt to persuade him to run favourable coverage.”
“His politics are generally right-wing, though he apparently favours republicanism over monarchy and is said to have refused a peerage from Queen Elizabeth II.” He has been known to change his opinions on governments when opportunities for advancement arise. For example, Murdoch refused to publish a book by Chris Pattern that was critical of the Chinese government for the sole reason of extending StarTV into the Chinese market.
Newspaper and Magazine Empire
News Corporation owns 175 newspapers worldwide, including the Times of London (purchased 1981) and the New York Post. The acquisition of the Post was a particularly sharp slap in the face to liberals, and Americans in general. The nation’s first newspaper was started by Alexander Hamilton (a noted homosexual) and had long been a bastian of liberalism. Upon its purchase, the viewpoints expressed took a complete one-eighty.
His tactics have been less than respectable. Murdoch has challenged printer’s unions to keep his costs low. He has also pushed the idea of “Page 3 Girls” – the printing of topless photos of women on the third page of an otherwise tasteful newspaper.
Murdoch’s magazine acquisitions are far less substantial. Most notable is TV Guide, a publication reaching millions of American homes weekly. He also runs the Weekly Standard, a political journal with an unsurprising right leaning.
Murdoch owns numerous television networks, including the Fox channels (Fox News, Fox Sports, FX, etc.). Fox News is notoriously conservative with such headliners as Bill O’Reilly.
The Fox Network has increasingly been marketed to the base desires of Americans, with shows ranging from “Cops” to “When Animals Attack”. The value of such programming must be questioned, and the only reason for these shows to exist must be to keep people pacified and distracted from any real content. If a survey were to be conducted, there is little doubt we would find a strong correlation between the voters who prefer Bush’s anti-intellectual pro-cowboy talk and those who enjoy drinking beer and watching “wild police chases.”
Another branch of the Fox family is 20th Century Fox, a film company.
Iraq, 2003: Shoot the Messenger
In the months leading up to the Iraq War, all 175 newspapers owned by News Corporation took a pro-war stance in their reporting and editorials. Those who read these papers in New York, London, and elsewhere were force-fed the war without being given much chance to consider the alternatives.
Fox News, of course, took a similar approach. Already being known for its conservative views, the reporters and talk show hosts were quick to fan the flames of Bush and Blair’s war. According to a study by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, Fox viewers “were the most ill-informed of all.” One researcher, Clay Ramsay, said, “People who rely primarily on Fox News are living in a different world from people who get their news from a mix of sources.” [Progressive]
What is interesting to consider is that Murdoch had nothing to gain from the outcome of the war, good or bad. As an Australian, his concerns could not be with avenging the (unconnected) September 11th terrorist attacks. And what did it matter to him what would happen to Iraq? Did he want to expand his empire in the Middle East? No.
Clearly, the interests expressed were sales-oriented. By pushing the war, even under false premises, Murdoch succeeded in turning public opinion in favor of such a war and also increased his circulation. People are more likely to read a newspaper or turn o nthe television during wartime than during peace, as war offers a constant barrage of “entertainment” and in many cases people feel a personal connection to the war through their family’s soldiers or perhaps through memories of their own military ordeals.
DirecTV: The New Threat
What can only be seen as one step closer to true monopoly is Rupert Murdoch’s acquisition of DirecTV. In late 2003, he successfully passed the FCC to purchase DirecTV for $6.6 billion. Prior to the purchase, NewsCorp channels reached 44 percent of America. Now, 11 million new subscribers will be added to that list.
The FCC approved the merger on a 3-2 vote. Not surprisingly, party line dominated the vote with the two members in favor being Republican and the two dissenters Democratic. Also, it probably doesn’t hurt that Murdoch had contributed nearly $10 million in lobbying funds between 1999 and 2002.
One dissenter, Jonathan A. Adelstein, was concerned that the merger put News Corp “in a position to raise programming prices for consumers, harm competition in video programming and distribution markets nationwide, and decrease the diversity of media ownership.” The new ownership gives NewsCorp the power to “shut out local programming” in favor of nationally-owned Fox stations. They have agreed to give these rural subscribers antennas, but this certainly does not guarantee a signal.
The only positive aspect of this deal is that NewsCorp has agreed to provide Fox stations to other outlets for the same deal as would apply to DirecTV. Put simply, this means they would be unable to hijack competitors such as Time Warner Cable (another near-monopoly) by overcharging them while giving DirecTV a free ride and luring Fox-savvy consumers over to the Dish.
NewsCorp pushed for the acquisition of DirecTV under the false promise of competing with cable and thereby helping to lower costs for consumers through competition. The FCC found, however, that NewsCorp failed to show any savings will be passed on to customers or that they were eager to help consumers at all. FCC Commissioner said the likelihood that NewsCorp would cut prices was “so remote as to be invisible.” [Sirota]
Monopolies and corporate mergers in general are bad for the public because they place intense power in the hands of so few. To control the media in this way – essentially everything we take in – is dangerous and places us all at risk. It is a small step from biasing the information we see and hear to fabricating it entirely. In the case of the Iraq War, some would say this has already been accomplished.
The issue here is not of right versus left, although the threat to the left is much greater in this instance. The issue here is on personal freedom and the ability to view the world subjectively. At what point do we lose the chance to take in different opinions and formulate our own and start believing the one view held by “authority” that is force-fed to us through the all-powerful media? When does America become Communist China? When does free thought become the intellectual property of the highest bidder? Pray we never see the day these questions are answered.
“No Comment”, The Progressive. December 2003.
Sirota, David, Christy Harvey and Judd Legum. “Murdoch’s Mega-Media Merger” The Progress Report December 22, 2003.
Sources: Unless noted, quotations are taken from Wikipedia.com.
Later: talk of Simpsons, Married With Children, and the biased (?) TV Guide