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News media: shifting ground

Written By: - Date published: 12:44 pm, March 19th, 2013 - 12 comments
Categories: broadcasting, capitalism, democratic participation, internet, news, newspapers, tv, twitter, uk politics - Tags: , ,

The withdrawal of News Corp from SkyNZ, and the recent deal about press regulation in the UK is a symptom of the demise of media moguls, like Murdoch and a shift of balance between the corporate media and politicians.  It  is part of the demise of media moguls, the rise of financial investors, the threats from the Internet, and a shift of balance between corporate media and politicians. It does not necessarily mean a revival of the critical, fourth estate ideal in the interest of the general public, especially the least powerful (as argued by Nicky Hagar).

As the UK (and US media goes), NZ follows to some extent.  We have seen that with the rise and rise of infotainment in the era of media moguls. The withdrawal of Murdoch’s News Corp from Sky NZ, does not end the power of wealthy elites over the news media.  It signals a shift that involves the rising significance of media online, and from media moguls to financial investors.  John Drinnan, in a comment on The Standard, claimed that the selling of News Corp shares has increased NZ ownership for now.  However, as Drinnan indicates,this is no guarantee of the end to the influence from the global financial elites.

The struggle over press regulation in the UK has largely been one between the corporate media and politicians and against a back-drop of celebrity culture, at least as far as the most populist part of the MSM is concerned.   However, there has also been some crucial input from academics, which points to the main issue being the concentration of ownership of the news media by increasingly more powerful and wealthy entities.

Professor James Curran, in his submission to the Leveson Inquiry in November 2011, argued:

The problem with our high degree of press concentration, in other words, is that it encourages the periodic erosion of press independence through the forging of high level alliances between press oligarchs and government that can be tacit or explicit, pragmatic or ideological. This gives rise to what can be termed ‘coalitional journalism’ that weakens the role of the press as an independent watchdog, and distorts the press as a medium of debate.

Following the Leveson Report, there was a period of debate, struggle and negotiation over the form of the required new press regulation. In a November 2012 BBC4 (radio) podcast, Professor Natalie Fenton and ex-Guardian editor Peter Preston discussed the issues, chaired by journalist Steve Hewlett.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

While Preston (5-6 mins approx) argued that any statutory underpinning of the regulations would open the door to political interference, Fenton disagreed.  She argues,

The reason we are here is because of unlawful, unethical, intimidatory and misrepresentative behaviour by the press. It’s nothing to do with the politicians although it has become because the press has become so powerful, actually they’ve stopped holding politicians to account.  They’ve actually started calling them to heel. So we have a real problem there.”

It will be a while before the dust settles and the details of the deal over press regulation in the UK settles.  Both sides are currently claiming victory.  There has been the inclusion of some statutory underpinning, while PM Cameron is claiming victory in removing oversight from direct political interference.  The group Hacked Off (strongly associated with Hugh Grant), is pretty happy with the outcome, while the organisation strongly opposing any political involvement (Index on Censorship) is unhappy.  The statutory underpinning will be entrenched, adding an obstacle to political interference.

However, Hugh Grant’s involvement and his focus on the privacy of individuals, does nothing to counter the celebrity culture logic embedded in the current dominance of infotainment in the MSM.

And, as some argue, the Leveson Report sidelines the elephant in the room, the increasing role  of the internet.  In the lead up to the regulation settlement, Cory Doctorow, on Boing Boing pointed to as part of the proposed deal, Schedule 4 would the coverage of news-related material on websites:

What neither of them are talking about is Schedule 4, which establishes that the new rules will cover “a website containing news-related material (whether or not related to a newspaper or magazine)” where publication “takes place in the United Kingdom” and relates to “news or information about public affairs” or “opinion about matters relating to the news or current affairs.”

Tweeters, bloggers and bloggers could apparently be subject to complaints resulting in them having to pay to defend themselves.  This could open the way to both external and  self-censorship. At this stage, I’m not sure how much this is scaremongering, as the UK deal is quite complicated, and will be tested in practice.

However, what is clear is that the news mediascape is changing, there are struggles going on, largely between the corporate media and politicians.  The importance of ending the powerful influence of the wealthy capitalist elites, the issue of the concentration of media ownership and the urgent need to resurrect a truly critical, and democratic fourth estate remain marginalised.

[Update: The deal excludes tweeters, bloggers etc. According to an Independent article, major newspapers are furious about the deal, and

It emerged last night that the new provisions would cover news-based websites – including the online editions of national newspapers and sites such as the Huffington Post – but not broadcasters’ websites. It will also exclude bloggers, tweeters and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter and small publishers of special interest and trade titles.

12 comments on “News media: shifting ground”

  1. tc 1

    becoming an election issue in OZ as the gov’t puts forward legislation (with plenty of warts)( to curb ownership etc after the savaging Murdoch and Fearfacts gave them on the mining tax.

    Murdosch’s exiting beacause he’ll make more money elsewhere, it’s never been about power in itself with Rupert but rather if that power can make him money.

  2. ghostrider888 2

    FTP

  3. Under the rationale of policing un-mandated hacking of individual citizens, the state now takes away the citizenship of the political hackers and mandates more state spying.

    • Colonial Viper 3.1

      Basically the worst aspects and habits of the old Soviet Eastern Bloc.

      • karol 3.1.1

        Although, it looks likely to be incorporated within a capitalist, individualist, celebrity culture ethos and system.

  4. ak 4

    It does not necessarily mean a revival of the critical, fourth estate ideal in the interest of the general public, especially the least powerful

    Certainly not. Mere tinkering with the left’s final hurdle: privately-owned control of public opinion via information censorship and selection.

    e.g.: considering the deluge of poll news in recent years, anyone seen the tiniest reference to the latest Roy Morgan?

  5. xtasy 5

    Karol – whether the private media is in the hands of some “moguls” owning corporate style businesses running media outlets, or whether it is in the hands of companies or corporations owned by various shareholders of whatever profit seeking types, it will not matter all that much, apart from the fact perhaps, that “moguls” may try to have a direct personal “input” at times.

    Once there is the strong profit focus and a substantial dependence on advertising, then privately owned media, even state run media, will in most, if not all cases, be of a “compromising” type.

    I appreciate your contribution here, and I like the reference made by Prof. James Curran to “coalitional journalism”, evident where media is concentrated in a few hands. Yes, we have this in New Zealand also, where print and online media are dominated by 2 mostly Australian owned corporations, where television is dominated by the likes of shareholder owners of TV3 and Sky TV, where TVNZ has been turned into a commercial type operation trying to compete for ratings with the other two, and where radio is also controlled in few hands.

    Having John Key become a “host” on Radio Live”, appear and chat regularly on “breakfast”, where having former politicians like Michael Laws allowed to push their personal political bias on air, having other former politicians, celebrities, and long term “popular” figures read news, present reports, offer infotainment and other stuff interspersed with endless commercials, does lead to “friendly” and “favourable” relationships between stations and political parties and lobby groups.

    In a small country like NZ the activities of one Steven Joyce and Maurice Williamson should raise eye-brows. Paul Holmes had his style and at times very biased comments, others do the same, and we have too much influence by powerful, famous personalities and certain business groups supporting them. Advertising naturally will have some influence on what will get broadcast, as media outlets depend on that revenue stream, so biting the hand that feeds you would not be a good idea. Product placement is rampant also. Listening to the news and sports on private stations where adverts are mingled in with news-bits is a real revelation (“promoted by”, “sponsored by…”).

    Journalism has deteriorated and degenerated, so the dumbing down continues, which will lead to more poorly informed voters and not sufficiently scrutinised politicians voted in to form governments that will of course also take advantage of and abuse the media for their own ends.

    The 4th Estate is only to be found in few remnants now, as the old breed of journalists makes room for the young, well-groomed, career minded, adaptable, self serving journo-school grads take over. Do not rock the boat too much, is the first things they learn, or you will have no access to, and information from, politicians and others.

    One only apparently privately owned leading television channel that somehow impresses and surprises me is Al Jazeera, offering rather good reporting and documentaries. But how long will that remain as it is?

    • karol 5.1

      Agreed, xtasy.

      There;s a current shift in the balance among the wealthy and/or powerful, but no strong hope for an emergent fourth estate.

      NZ is also too small to enable much diversity at the margins, unlike at the US and Europe.

      Al Jazeera is great but already has shown a shift toward a couple of specific powerful interests.

      The uncertain factor, though, is the internet. This is why corporates, financial institutions and governments like the US, are trying to gain control of copyright, ondemand, etc. And probably why the is a threat to the truth-telling of blogs and tweeters etc, as indicated in the reporting in my post of schedule 4 in the proposed UK deal.

      • xtasy 5.1.1

        karol: You have great insight and are onto it! I wish we could make more aware of what goes on!

      • Alanz 5.1.2

        And also it would be farctastic for some political representatives to gag, bully and squash fellow party members from writing online

        :-)

        • lprent 5.1.2.1

          The moderators are the only ones who can do anything effective, and we don’t moderate for political party reasons.

          We also seldom intervene when people are just arguing about politics. Which is why this is an equal opportunity anarchy. The moderators are a benign and lazy but quite dictatorial and over reactive police force who get real interested when commentators exhibit behaviours that attack the sites role in facilitating argument and discussion. Becomes a judgment call for commentators as to if what they are saying will attract a moderators attention.

          Tends to work quite well.

          Edit: Darn – I missed an important word – in italics. Commenting on a small pad is fraught.

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