We live in society today where the media plays an alarmingly big part in how we see the world, and how our opinions are formed, whether it is from what we watch on television to who we vote for.
The media has helped to make our society a democracy by placing emphasis on issues that at one stage in time would have been considered strictly private issues such as child birth, homosexuality, child care, domestic violence, and sexual harassment. Due to this democracy we now look differently at politics, and are more active in whom we want in office, and how we want our children to be raised.
The globalisation of the media has increased our access to information about people and events around the world, but in the process it has also shifted issues on what should or should not be in the public domain.1
The media performs an essential part in our democracy socially, politically, economically and culturally. It is the main source of political information and allows us to access political debate. It allows us as an audience to be informed and to participate in how we should perceive things.
Democracy needs the media to provide people with a wide range of opinions, analysis and debates on important issues. It needs the media to be able to reflect on the diversity of the audience, and it needs the media to be accountable for what is going on around them, and to be diverse and deliberate in how they communicate these issues to audiences. 2
The increased information given to audiences has a ‘democratising effect’, mobilising audiences into action, which in turn has significant implications for governments and businesses.
International relations and events in our democracy are more visible and transparent, have more domestic policy ramifications and involve the public more often.
While the globalised media plays a big part in our democracy, and has been characterised by the massive economic expansion and technical innovation it has also caused many problems for democracy. There is an increase in inequality, cultural and social tumult and individual alienation.
The digital revolution and introduction of new technologies are redefining our notions of politics yes, but they are also redefining the structuring powers in society. Increasingly power resides in the hands of those that can produce, control and disseminate information the most effectively. This goes back to Marx’s theory that those who control the world govern it.
While the proliferation of communications and increased global interdependence might create global understanding, equality and harmony it doesn’t necessarily mean that there is an increase in human communication and co-operation.
If anything it is leading to the replacement of traditional structures, such as family religion, and the community with one that are supposedly more relevant.3
There are too few transnational media conglomerates dominating the world media, and fewer than 24 media conglomerates account for the majority of our newspapers, magazines, films, television and radio. With only a few big conglomerates running the show the media has become a vehicle used for commercial exploitation. There has been a steady increase of commercialisation of sports, arts, and education. This is disturbing when audiences are turning to the media to tell us how to vote, and how the government is being run.
The media is constantly used by these conglomerates to spread existing structures and values, which are dominant globally and emphasise the free-market economy and the capitalist liberal democracy.
The spread of the media has in fact broken down barriers to communications and international commerce, and makes it more difficult for governments and regulatory bodies to protect their cultures and societies from commercialisation and advertising.4
The main conglomerates have made the media very concentrated. Companies such as Times-Warner, Disney and Viacom have such diverse media holdings that they own both the means of production and distributing, further concentrating the media outlets and the information that we receive through the mass media.
The media is vertical where production and distribution companies are allowed to own various types of networks, channels, and television stations. The media is supposed to be neutral yet how can they be so neutral when companies seem to ignore the important role that culture and social values play in shaping information.
How can they be neutral when only a few conglomerate companies run them? The choices made everyday by government officials, media producers and distributors determine what topics are covered, what they want us to know and what they don’t want us to know, what information is selected and how it is portrayed. The simple choice of one story over another is not just economical and professional but also political.5
The choices that the media makes in presenting stories determines what becomes part of its audiences natural consciousness and what values and ideas take precedence to the general public.
But these choices are not made by what they think the public wants but based on their own beliefs, and reflect cultural, social and national values and identity.
The mass media is viewed as a means to increase diversity, democracy and the power of the individual. Yet more and more it seems that the media is a vehicle being used by the government and the producers to manipulate the community and advertise. It is assumed that the more television channels we have, the more diverse the information we receive.
But this is a misconception, as Western Products, Hollywood values and advertising dominate nearly all of the media. More often now than not the information that is transmitted by the media is infotainment and advertising.
The media is used so that audiences find it more difficult to have an impact on policies, goals and directions of their own social, economic and political institutions.
As mentioned the media is owned by transnational corporations that command huge economies, run from the top and are interlinked in various ways. Their first interest is profit, and to construct an audience of a particular type. One that is addicted to a certain life-style with artificial wants.
Their primary function is selling audiences to advertisers. They don’t make money from their subscriptions. They make money when an advertiser pays them. They believe in free market principles for others, but not for themselves. The major corporations in every society rely very heavily on state subsidy and state intervention.6
Making a profit from their advertising fees means that media outlets are influenced by various corporate interests. News coverage and other media content is therefore affected. Stories can end up being biased or omitted so that they don’t offend their advertisers or their owners. Corporate media is not a good thing for democracy when there is a risk of an increased economic and political influence that becomes unaccountable for. That is a great concern in democracy.
Companies such as Newslimited and Times-Warner are so big that they have the power to stop other companies setting in on what they consider their turf. Times-Warner owns everything from Cable TV to sports teams and smaller companies that don’t have these options find that they can not compete in the media market.
The problem with this is that with so few companies in complete power they are the ones making the decisions to what information is disseminated to the public, and this is done but what they think will make them a profit, and what will be beneficial to them. Companies such as News Corp wrote about the heroics of the War on terrorism, and the Iraq War because it was beneficial for them to support the U.S Government. The information filtered through to audiences was biased because it wasn’t telling people why there was a war, but that we should be supporting it. This was done because it would make them profit, and work in their favour.
This was also shown in 1998 when Rupert Murdoch personally intervened to prevent one of the companies that he owned, HarperCollins, from publishing the memoirs of former Governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patton. He alleged that it was because he didn’t want the memoirs to offend the Government, but it was in fact because it might jeopardise plans by News Corp to have future expansion in China.7
Firms in the media industry compete with each other, but they also work together to reduce competition and in fact the nine largest American firms have joint ventures with nearly six of the other eight giants. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp has at least one joint venture with every other of his competitors. This is not an appealing notion for we, as the audience has little say in what is produced. It also sadly it indicates that the main purpose to our media is only to make money for those huge companies in charge.
If this is the case then how can Journalists be protected from the commercial interests of their owners? And how can information be filtered out evenly without bias when media owners wish to sell their space to the highest advertiser.
Journalists claim to give readers the news that they think is important to their lives, but in fact tend to be assisting in the process of converting Journalism into the type of consumer news and information that advertisers want.8
Global conglomerates such as Times-Warner, News Corp, Sony, Viacom, Bertelsmann, and AT & T have an impact on our culture, especially when they are entering nations that have been tightly controlled by an already corrupt media system or nations that have significant censorship over media such as China. The Global companies don’t have respect for tradition or custom especially if it stands in the way of profits.
Another problem with having such a globalised media in our democracy is that the media produces so much knowledge, information, dissemination of everything and that produces an absence of everything too, and in doing so produce a situation that causes too many images.
The mode of production is then affected. The media has introduced us to a world with no fixed territory, a world increasingly without limits. This can cause us, as an audience to have a loss of sensibility, a loss of limits. This affects the mode of production. One does not produce what is absent, or what is invisible. It affects the production of culture, by mixing them with different cultures.9
If anything the consolidation of ownership across the various media remains a threat to democracy. The public’s right to information and ideas from the widest possible range of sources means little in a world dominated by a handful of interlocking media giants.
The news programs that people see, and the advertisements that accompany them are dominated by the success of white, wealthy westerners and the examples of the dangers posed to them are poor, black, non-westerners. Women are also represented in the media by glamorous models, actresses and news presenters.
The problem with a globalised media in a democracy is that it can ruin the public infrastructure and that in turn means the demise of the public sector, which results in privatisation and more commercialism.
Media ownership and media concentration becomes a problem when audiences are not becoming well informed because the audience or public can not act as an authoritarian.
The danger of living in such a world means that while there is an increase in the mode of communication, new forms of identity and community there is an equal loss in political sovereignty, economic opportunity and cultural diversity.
1 Healey, Justin Mass Media and Society, Spinney Press, 2000
2 McChesney Making Media democratic, Boston Review issue 23
3 Mowlana, Hamid Globalisation of the mass media, London-Sage Publications, 1997
4 Tunstall, Jeremy The new Hollywood Network Cartel and Europe, Carleton University Press 1998
5 Chomsky Noam Media and Globalisation Third World Network, 1996
6 OECD Globalisation: challenges and opportunities OECD Publishing 2000
7 Wiseman, John Global Nation, Cambridge University Press, 1998
8 Kortin, David, The mythical victory of Market Capitalism Goldsmith, Edward and Mender, San Francisco 1996
9 McChessney, Robert Global media, neoliberalism, and imperialism, Monthly review, volume 52 issue 10 2001