Picture it, a democratic society founded on an ethos of free speech and open public opinion, encouraging a culture of healthy competition and informed citizenship. At the same time, imagine this society harnessed under an oligpoly of powerful media giants suppressing local institutions and dominating the public discourse with well-defined economic priorities which triumph public interests. Does this sound familiar?
Unfortunately, this is not another one of George Orwell’s chilling visions of a totalitarian world. Rather, it describes the contemporary Australian media landscape whereby the media moguls of Packer, Murdoch and Stokes and their dynasties Fairfax, Nine Network, NewsCorp, Fox and Seven, as well as players Gina Rinehart and Bruce Gordon (Turnbull, 2014) hold powerful positions as the purveyors of influence in political, economic and social life.
This centralisation of media ownership (Hart, 2008) is alarming given the potential for media owners to misuse their power to influence reporting (‘Democracy in Australia’, 2013), as seen by the blatant right-wing bias in the papers owned by Murdoch during the 2013 Federal election (McKnight, 2013). Such repressions on journalistic independence prompt further issues relating to media pluralism, as the loss of freedom of expression leads to a poorly informed public (Hart, 2008).
Yet the effect that media ownership, and thus coverage, can have on our ideologies is not a new phenomenon. During the Vietnam War, graphic footage broadcast across the country had an adverse effect on public opinion (McLaughlin, n.d.), with some veterans recalling being abused as baby killers, rapists and murderers on their return home (‘Aftermath’, n.d.).
In comparison, today’s digital era consists of multiple delivery channels, with the increasing concentration of media ownership (Hart, 2008) and the potential relaxation of regulations restricting cross-media ownership (Lynch, 2014) enabling content that is politically influenced, inaccurate, manipulated or biased to reach a far greater audience (‘Democracy in Australia’, 2013). This is evident in the viral image of a four-year-old Syrian boy apparently alone in the desert.
Thus, while major media corporations can monitor, change and direct public discourse, because the Internet is so prolific, there will always be sources to find out the truth, which, coupled with the rise of citizen journalism and activism, will redefine and disrupt the parameters of media control.Giverny Reference List: Turnbull, S., 2014, ‘Media Mythbusting: ‘Information Just Wants To Be Free’, notes from Lecture 4 of Communication and Media Studies at The University of Wollongong.
‘Democracy in Australia – Media concentration and media laws’, 2013, The Australian Collaboration, retrieved 28 March 2014, pp.1-2 <http://www.australiancollaboration.com.au/pdf/Democracy/Media-laws.pdf>.
McKnight, D., 2013, ‘Rupert Murdoch and his influence on Australian political life’, The Guardian, retrieved March 28 2014, <http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/07/rupert-murdoch-australian-election-2013>.
Hart, E., 2008, , ‘Media Ownership’ in
Media and Journalism, Oxford University Press, pp. 401-2, 404, retrieved 24 March 2014, <http://lib.oup.com.au/he/media_journalism/bainbridge2e/bainbridge1e_case06.pdf>.
McLaughlin, E., ‘Television Coverage of the Vietnam War and the Vietnam Veteran, The Warbird’s Forum, retrieved 29 March 2014, <http://www.warbirdforum.com/media.htm>.
‘Aftermath’, Australia and the Vietnam War, retrieved March 29 2014, <http://vietnam-war.commemoration.gov.au/aftermath/veterans.php>.
Lynch, J., ‘Coalition ‘sympathetic’ to relaxing restrictions on media ownership’, The Sydney Morning Herald: Business Day, retrieved March 28 2014, <http://www.smh.com.au/business/coalition-sympathetic-to-relaxing-restrictions-on-media-ownership-20140309-34ff5.html>.
Sherwood, S., Malik, S., 2014, ‘Image of Syrian boy in desert triggers sympathy – and then a backlash, The Guardian, retrieved 29 March 2014, <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/18/image-syrian-boy-desert-un-refugees-tweet>.