HOW MEDIA OWNERSHIP AND FINANCING ENFEEBLES AND DEBILITATES DEMOCRACY.
Media ownership and financing are two inseparable and inextricably linked aspects of media. These two factors incontrovertibly have a lot of influence on a country’s democracy and have a hand in making or breaking a democracy. If largely concentrated in the hands of a few individuals, firms or corporations, democracy gets eroded and undermined drastically.
With hindsight of the above articulated, the concept of media, media ownership and financing, as well as their place and role in a democracy will be explained.
Concentration of media ownership and financing in the hands of a few; be it the government or the private sector can, result in lack of diversity of opinions, news and proposals, and also a malnourished and emasculated marketplace of ideas is created. Furthermore, a horrifying state of no accountability, lack of transparency, no corruption and abuse of power become rife and abound greatly. The state of media financing and concentration can keep certain people, parties and organisations in power and also creates a playing field that is not level.
Investigative journalism suffers, journalist reporting is stifled and their reporting gets stunted. This essay will elucidate all the above five points as well postulate that fact that corruption, non-accountability, lack of transparency and bad governance and abuse of power seems to be the most execrable factor. A malnourished market place of ideas which is one-sided that promotes the ideas of one entity is also another major factor that leads to media ownership and financing undermining democracy.
This essay will use examples of the media concentration at the People’s Republic of China, South Africa and Egypt.
Media is the main means of communication, information promulgation as well as dissemination or conveying/relaying of information, data and important messages. There is private media owned by individuals, firms or corporations other than the government. There also exists the public media which is the media owned by the government or state, owned and financed by the state. Media ownership refers to the legitimate possession by entities of a means of communication, information dissemination and promulgation.
Media financing implies the incurring of costs, monetary capital and finances in the actual operations, conveying and dissemination of a message from one party to another, it includes financing the processes that unearth and unravel vital information, as well as purchase of equipment that actualises those processes and literally facilitates the dissemination of such. Democracy is the system of government profound in republics that believes in power or authority being elected at regular intervals by citizens and thus buttressing the common niche “government of the people, by the people and for the people.”
Media plays a very critical role in any democracy. Media is in fact deemed the “fourth estate” and the fourth organ of government. Media has the role of covering and publishing government activities, functions and relaying critical information from the government to the public. Such information may include announcement of national elections dates, appointment of cabinet ministers, chief justice and heads of the disciplined forces amongst others. It also announces government programmes and policies and assesses their efficacy, effectiveness and performance in uplifting the lives of the citizens.
Media amongst its myriad tasks and responsibilities; analyses performance of cabinet ministers, politicians that form the legislature, aspiring members of parliament, and performance of the president and the vice president. It covers political party functions, activities, programmes and party manifestos. It furthermore scrutinises the competence of political candidates, and analyzes party manifestos and their viability before making prognostications.
FACTORS THAT RESULT IN MEDIA FINANCING AND OWNERSHIP CREATING A COMPROMISED DEMOCRACY
Media ownership and financing can only stifle democracy if concentrated in the hands of a few. This is triggered by various factors that will be elucidated below.
1. Lack of diversity of opinions and voice on important matters of national interest
Media ownership and financing if concentrated in the hands of a few individuals, firms and corporations will definitely lead to a situation in which there is a lack of diversity of opinions and voices on important matters of national interest and concern. This will happen because there will be a few competing firms that relay and disseminate information and therefore few perspectives and points of view will be presented and written about in the public domain. Few opinions that evaluate, assess , analyse and scrutinise national government policies, actions, appointments and shed light on how alternatively things like programmes and policies could have been implemented abounds and happens.
This lack of diversity can happen if media houses are few or are owned by a few oligopolies or organisations thus having a central opinion though subtly expressed at times in various ways. South Africa reportedly has four media groups that dominate the industry namely Nasnionale Pers (NasPers), Independent News and Media, Caxton and CTP Publishers and Printers as well as Avusa or Times Media Group, this according to Lloyd (2013). Lloyd (2013) carries on to elaborate that with all this South Africa ranks as number three in the Herfindahl-Hirschmann Index which is a worldwide measurement of media concentration by various countries.
2. Marketplace of ideas does not flourish
Due to media ownership and financing being concentrated in the hands of a few, media which is supposed to embody and literally be the marketplace of ideas on various interests in this case politically, gets malnourished and the whole purpose gets distorted and enervated. Since views and perspectives on policy implementation, formulation and assessment does not exist, the views are homogeneous as postulated by Cooper (2003). The media concentration creates a situation in which views are the same or very similar and this leads to a marketplace of ideas that has one or similar ideas.
To epitomise this in China the government is domineering and dominant in so far as media regulation and ownership is concerned. The Chinese Communist Party is domineering in the sense that it sets the tone of which media houses have to abide by in order to exist. It’s control and regulation of media is dictatorial and authoritarian inclined as attested to by Luo (2015). Luo (2015) says the Chinese Communist Party which through its politburo forms and constitutes government acts as the media “owner, funder, regulator and creator” (p. 54). This shows the extent to which media is controlled and definitely diverse ideas cannot be expressed.
3. Non-accountability, corruption, abuse of power and maladministration abound
Under a system wherein media ownership and financing are owned by a few, investigative journalism is stifled and extinguished. The media watchdog function is severely emasculated thus giving rise to reckless and extremely careless governance which may be undemocratic and even undermine the rule of law. This happens because there is no force to keep the government in check and in its rightful place without stepping out of its’ confines and parameters.
Media expositions on egregious matters like corruption, nepotism, cronyism, favouritism in tendering and maladministration in general are few and isolated. If any they are quickly quelled or just brush on the surface in terms of media expositions. As Barnett (2010) says when there are fewer media owners there are less voices projected on matters of bad governance. This he says abounds because fewer interests aligned mostly to the government of the day. In China brave journalists that tried exposing matters of maladministration and bad governance like corruption and abuse of power, the journalists were severely chastised, reprimanded, tortured and in extreme cases, some were even killed Qinglian (2004).
4. Certain individuals, political parties and governments are kept in power and rule unchallenged by opposition
Media ownership and financing which are placed in the hands of a few corporations, firms or oligopolies can aid in the government of the day or powerful individuals maintaining or attaining power. This kind of a media scenario can lead to individuals that want to democratically usurp power as national elections having the upper hand or an advantage because the media can portray them as good and vote-worthy. The People’s Republic of China epitomises this because the preferred candidate in the Chinese Communist Party may have the upper hand than others if media sponsors him so long as his/her interests are similar or resonate well with the powers that be. If the government is seeking re-election, the impact of oppositional ideas on a small elite circle gets neglected and is practiced literally Zhao (2004).
Government atrocities, failures, misdemeanours and deficiencies are printed by the media. Government unscrupulous and unorthodox actions are reviewed, evaluated and monitored by the media and brought to the public by it White (2008). The absence of such revelations and expositions by the media to the public gives the government of the day an advantage and tilts the electoral scale in their favour. This is because they are portrayed as good and progressive and hence the public is deceived and blinded into believing that there is utterly no need to change governments. Opposition candidates who may be robust and qualify as credible alternatives to leadership and the government are made dark horses by the media and their ideas and proposed programmes are asphyxiated. As Doyle (2002) says, they are not given enough coverage and if they are given any they may get character assassinations, and get their images tarnished so as to portray them in bad faith so as to reduce their chances of triumphing and ascending to the helm of power of that respective country. This violation of human rights really opposes democracy.
5. Investigative journalism suffers and genuine journalism is sabotaged
Due to possible tight media regulation policies by the government, the media ownership and financing that are placed in the hands of a few firms, corporations and companies may not publicly expose the government nor delve deep into thoroughly unravelling matters and bringing them to the fore so as to maintain their relevance and existence. Sensitive and confidential government issues, prominent people’s actions and misdeeds are not reported much on. Media houses and outlets will rarely report on fallacies and failures due to fear of victimisation and systematic sequestration. This leads to compromised media reports that just report positively on government actions and give compromised analysis biased in favour of positivity.
Egypt for example, has adopted restrictions of speech on matters of politics within the country and authorities usually are required not to be criticised. Roberts (2015) articulates that Freedom of the media is limited through tight and stringent media laws that give confines for reporters, media writers and journalism acts. Those that transgress against the stipulated laws designated and enacted into the countries laws risk severe reprimanding and “Article 178 of the Egypt Penal Code” (Roberts, 2015, p. 7) may be invoked and applied. All these automatically scare and intimidate Egyptian journalists from reporting in an investigative manner and delving deep in terms of probes and unravelling of issues is concerned.
This essay managed to successfully to explain what media is, media ownership and financing areas well as explain what democracy is. It managed to explain the role of media in a democracy and pinpoint, identify and elaborate the five factors that make media ownership and financing a threat to democracy and a great erosion of democracy. It has managed to single out two factors however that are the biggest contributors to media ownership and financing degrading and deprecating democracy, namely; the factor of a malnourished marketplace of ideas and abounding of corruption, maladministration and abuse of power as the second factor. This essay believes unflinchingly that media ownership and financing placed in the hands of a few certainly does erode and destroy a democracy.
1. Barnett, S. What’s wrong with media monopolies?. A lesson from history and a new approach to media ownership policy. 18. pp. 45-48
2. Cooper, M. (2003). Media Ownership and democracy in the digital information age, promoting diversity with first amendment principles and market structure. Silicon Valley: CA: Centre for internet and Society and Stanford Law School
3. Doyle, G. (2002). The economics and politics of convergence and concentration in the UK and European Media. London, USA: Sage Publications Ltd.
4. Lloyd, L. (2013). South Africa’s Media 20 Years After Apartheid: A report to the Center for International Media Assistance. International Media Assistance. pp. 16-18
5. Luo, A.J. (2015). Media system in China: A Chinese Perspective, 2 (1), pp. 54. Beijing Normal University
6. Qinglian, H.E. (2004). Media control in China: Walking the tightrope. China Rights Forum, 1. pp.19
7. Roberts, C. (2015). The State of the right to freedom of expression in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia, from 2011 to 2015. AVOLATS Sans Frontiers, pp. 5-8
8. White, R.A. (2008). Media and Democratisation in Africa, Africa Communication Research, 1 (3). pp. 276-278
9. Zhao, Y. (2004). The State, The Market and Media Control in China. Pp. 181-192
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