Ownership is the key to the corruption of the media

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Good stuff at the Leveson enquiry, as always, but yesterday especially connected with media plurality and ownership. Seumas Milne writes in the Guardianabout the link between ownership and corruption (see snip and link below)

Image representing Rupert Murdoch as depicted ...

Image via CrunchBase

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But what do we mean by corruption? It can seem like an abstract concept. Being corrupt essentially means that you lose your moral compass (sense of right and wrong), and cease to do the right thing for the right reasons. Corruption has a direct impact on what philosophers call the good life, by which they don’t mean the 70s TV sitcom but the sense that there is a right way to live, a way in which everybody is free to pursue happiness in their own way, without adversely affecting the happiness of anyone else.

Once corruption creeps in, people cease to be concerned with the public good (happiness for everyone) and focus instead on the interests of a small group of people. I didn’t say “the happiness of” there because it often seems that – for this small group of people – happiness takes a back seat. Corrupted as they are, they’re not really concerned anymore with happiness, but have other priorities. Chiefly these priorities are to do with power – the power to make society run in the way that they want; the power to accumulate profits and drive out the competition.

At issue here is the question of whether Rupert Murdoch (and his son James) used their media power to influence government policy. Murdoch claimed at the Leveson that he “never asked” a politician to do anything. But this is not how power is exercised. If you have to ask, you’re not powerful enough. For the truly powerful, the world just is the way they want it to be. They’re not interested in how it happens. Meanwhile, in the background, people are running around trying to make them happy.

It doesn’t matter whether the support of the Sun newspaper is essential to win an election in this country. What matters is that politicians have always believed that it is. Personally, I think they’re probably right to think so, because newspapers don’t ever have to influence “everyone” – they only have to change the minds of those who habitually change their minds.

Elections are won in this country in specific places by specific groups of voters. If you live in one of these “swing” constituencies, you may have seen the party colours of your MP change over the years. Very few seats ever really switch sides. So it’s in these areas where the voters do switch around that the influence is felt. In other words, the Sun and other newspapers do not have to influence voters all over the country; and they don’t have to influence all voters: just the ones that frequently change their votes. By creating enough “swing” – enough of a momentum for change – these “floating” voters dictate the result of every General Election.

But as the evidence to the inquiry has demonstrated, it’s the corporate ownership of the press and media – and News International‘s dominant share of the market, delivered by Margaret Thatcher and reinforced by Blair – that gave Murdoch his mafia-like grip on politics and shaped the media’s reporting of everything from Iraq to financial deregulation.

Which is why Ed Miliband‘s demand today to set limits to cross-media ownership and the share of the newspaper market controlled by one proprietor (also backed by Major earlier in the day) represents a significant break with two decades of political class deference to the media monopolists. Added to the promotion of different forms of ownership – even more important in the digital era – that would start to widen media freedom and diversity.

via Ownership is the key to the corruption of the media | Seumas Milne | Comment is free | The Guardian.

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