During the Cold War, the western democracies trumpeted their freedoms to the Soviet Block. Foremost among them were free elections, a free press, free trade unions, the separation of the executive and legislative branches of government, and an independent judiciary.
In this post, I wish to draw attention to a few disquieting developments concerning the second item on the list, a free press.
There appears to be an (accelerating?) concentration of media ownership, which severely biases information provided to the public. Take Rupert Murdoch, who openly boasted of his political power because of the influence he has on public opinion. He “advised” the US government in the lead up to the Iraq war, not to take notice of dissenting international voices and go ahead with invading Iraq anyway. His rightwing Fox News played a leading role in brainwashing the American public. At this very moment, the British Labour government is wary of “taking on” Rupert Murdoch, since he owns The Times and The Sun. In Australia, which has the greatest or one of the greatest concentrations of media ownership in the Western world, it would be almost political suicide not to have the support of the media barons including Murdoch. Therefore, Kevin Rudd, on his pilgrimage to the US, made sure to meet Rupert Murdoch. In the United States, Rupert Murdoch has just made an offer of 6 billion US $ to take over ownership of the company (Dow Jones) which owns the Wall Street Journal plus various other items.
Media companies are treated like any other commercial company, and – from an economic point of view, or better from the point of view of shareholders – it may often make sense to form larger entities. This may be one reason why cross ownership laws in the media “industry” are continuously being watered down in a number of countries. Another reason: various parties want to keep the press on their side. This seems to me a serious danger to Western democracy.
What can one do about it?
(Just a reminder: a diverse and free press has been an important cornerstone of “classical” Western liberalism)