by Mattias Våglin
There’s a flaw in the system. I get it now. I finally see where the political system we live in breaks down. And I’m going to tell you.
Yesterday we were talking in class about one Rupert Murdoch and his media conglomerate. Truth be told my class actually saw a documentary about him, but I missed that one so I only participated in the talks afterwards (as in a few days afterwards). Anyway, in case you don’t know who Rupert Murdoch is let’s just say he owns about a million media corporations ranging from newspapers to tv-stations. But this really isn’t about him per se, he just exemplifies what I want to say so well. So maybe I should get to it then.
We that live in the western part of the world tend to be really into the whole democracy thing. In fact we’re so convinced that it’s the superior form of government that we even go to war to show other people the right way. And I don’t disagree, at least not with democracy being the best form of government. I may disagree with the going to war part, but that’s really neither here nor there. At least not today. Anyway, the whole foundation of democracy is that each person is equal to any other when it comes to making decisions. One man, one vote. Or one woman for that matter.
Now, this is all great and it works fairly well in a realitvely small community where everyone gets to say their piece if they want to. The problems start to show when we up the scales a little bit. Then all of a sudden the voice of one person is hard to hear unless one actively listens. And since the majority of the people don’t do that they tend to depend on others to tell them what they need to hear. And that job belongs to the media.
So with that established, here’s the crux. If one person controls a massive chunk of the media, that person controls what messages are being brought to the people at large. And if that person has any political ambitions it becomes a problem. All of a sudden one person has a lot more to say about who gets elected than any other and that’s not what I consider democracy.
In the US the problem may not be that large, at least not yet. This is simply because the country is so large that it will take a fortune to control enough of the media to matter (although a similar problem still exists since a lot of the media tend to lean towards the republicans for business reasons) but in smaller countries it becomes a totally different issue. If we’re going with Rupert Murdoch we only need to look at England. The media controlled by him all supported Tony Blair and guess who is prime minister. That his time as prime minister may be coming to an end has more to do with him flirting with Bush than anything else. Bush isn’t really popular in Europe, but I digress.
An even clearer example can be found in Italy. Silvio Berlusconi is a man who controls a significant part of the media in the country and for the longest time he was just another businessman. Then all of a sudden he decided that politics was something for him and then he was prime minister. Just like that.
So the problem here is that money is starting to rule the west more than ever before. Sure, big companies have always gotten special treatment from governments, but this is something else entirely. Now someone with enough money can effectively gain control of the media output and that is a significant problem. The worst part is that there’s little we can do about it.
There are a few things though. The most important thing is public service media, which means media owned and financed by the state rather than private interests. Public service is the best way to make sure people get to hear all sides. I am fortunate, because I come from a country where public service media (specifically radio and tv) has a strong foothold and the majority of the market. But a new financial reality makes it harder and harder for for public service tv (and other media) to compete with private interests.
Another big help is what you’re using right now. The Internet. The Internet can’t be controlled, at least not yet. The Internet is all about communication and here everyone gets to say what they want. In a way the Internet is the purest form of democracy, although most of the time it’s more anarchy than anything else. The problem with the Internet is that there are so many people saying their thing that it’s difficult to get heard. So even here people have to search for the things they want to hear, but at least it’s a lot easier to find things.
So where does this lead us? The obvious conclusion is that the Internet is good and that large media conglomerates are bad. It is, of course, not that simple. There is a lot of crap going on on the Internet as well and privately owned media has done a lot of good. Maybe we could try and put stricter anti-monopoly laws in place in regards to the media, but I’m not sure that is feasible. But there is an easy solution to the problem, it just takes that a majority of the people are in on it. It’s all about going out of our way to make sure we hear the voices the media doesn’t spoon feed us. And this really should come naturally to most of us, after all we are a curious race. So use what tools you have to listen and do your best to encourage others to do the same. That, at least, is a start.
Note – This Random Thoughts column was originally published on the old Winterwind Productions site in January, 2005, prior to our switch to WordPress in 2020.