Under authoritarian regimes, the media is controlled and policed by the state and its security and military arms. In democracies we are supposed to have a free media, impartially,truthfully and responsibly reporting news and events domestically and internationally. Unfortunately we do not; replacing the state by powerful ultra rich media moguls and powerful corporations does not make the media free. Journalists will follow their masters' voices to simply select events, news and stories, and what John Pilger termed "censorship by omission" to reinforce the prejudices of those powerful owners, enhance their profits and advance the interests of their corporations.
Simon Jenkins in Britain's Guardian writes: " I was asked some time ago by a university-educated Texan, in the nicest possible way, what it was like to live in a country of "baby-killers" about to be "overrun by Muslim bad guys". I inquired where he had gained this bizarre impression of Europe, which he had never visited. It turned out his sole information about the world beyond America's shore came from Fox News. He was not stupid. But he and millions of people like him considered this source of news a sufficient window on the world. He genuinely thought American troops would soon have to save Europe from "the Arabs"".
It is chilling that a propaganda outlet like Rupert Murdoch's Fox News broadcasting such bigoted and xenophobic nonsense is rated as one of the most watched cable news networks in America. It seems that even educated intelligent people are willing to believe such drivel as long as it is directed at the "other", people of a different culture and religion. We seem not to have learnt from history. All we do is to keep shifting our target of who the "other" might be, and are ready to believe that the situation this time is different.
But before we in Britain start congratulating ourselves on our British good sense, we need to realise that we are not immune from such racist, ignorant and xenophobic nonsense. I am reminded of the fear and anxiety created in Britain prior to the war against Iraq by lies and half truths orchestrated by politicians, warmongers and powerful lobbyists, with the complicity of most journalists, to convince the population of why a war against Iraq should be waged.
Champion par excellence among those "economical with the truth" was the warmonger in chief, Tony Blair. In his foreword to the work of fiction, aka the "September dossier" on Iraq WMD, he asserted that "Saddam's military planning allows for some of the WMD to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them ." Britain's Murdoch-owned biggest selling popular daily newspaper, The Sun , carried the headline "Brits 45 Mins from Doom", while the Star reported "Mad Saddam Ready to Attack: 45 Minutes from a Chemical War". Any moderately competent journalist could with ease have exposed these preposterous propositions. Some did, like Andrew Gilligan of the BBC, who got the sack for his honest appraisal of these claims. Government bullying also forced the resignation of Greg Dyke, the Director General of the BBC. Others, intimidated and fearful, kept silent and went along with the distortions, exaggerations and lies to protect their careers.
The BBC website reports that Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, that already owns the Sun, the Times and the Sunday Times in Britain, is currently involved in a takeover bid for broadcaster BSkyB. It already owns 39%, and it is attempting to buy the remainder.
The concentration of such influence in one corporate media giant would be a severe blow to democracy which thrives on the plurality of news outlets and opinions. Rupert Murdoch already has far more influence than is good for democratic governance to allow such a bid to go through.
Would the illegal catastrophic Iraq war have happened if it was not supported by the Murdoch media empire?
Would corporate media journalists step up to the plate and shoulder the enormous responsibility they have next time the beat of war drums is sounded against yet another unfortunate developing country? Would they care enough for the truth and the lives of people in faraway places that have a different culture and religion to risk upsetting powerful corporations and Rupert Murdoch? Alas, the signs are not propitious.
The silver lining in the sorry state of today's corporate media is the rise of progressive net based journalism such as OPEdNews, with a mission to expose the deceptions, distortions and omissions to which the public are constantly being subjected. May it continue to prosper.