A bright red herring.
When exactly wasthis golden age of hard-hitting journalism? One mightcall to mind brief periods: the muckrakers in the early20th century or Watergate reporting in the 1970s. Butacross countries and centuries, journalism typically hasnot been “hard-hitting.” With more news outlets andcompetition today, there is a greater range of journal-ism than was typical in the past. Further, a 2000 com-parison of 186 countries by Freedom House, a non-profit devoted to promoting democracy, suggests thatpress independence, including journalists’ freedomfrom economic influence, remained high in all but twomembers (Mexico and Turkey) of the Organisationfor Economic Co-operation and Development, whereglobal media’s markets are concentrated.Also underlying the complaint that news has been“dumbed down” is an assumption that the mediaought to be providing a big dose of policy-relevantcontent. Japan’s dominant public broadcaster,
,does so, yet is Japan a more vibrant democracy as aresult? More to the point, with so many media out-lets today, readers and viewers can get more and bet-ter news from more diverse perspectives, if that iswhat they want. Or they can avoid it altogether. Thealternative is to limit the number of outlets and imposecontent requirements on those remaining.The third problem with this notion of corpora-tions killing journalism is that it assumes ownershipmatters. In the old days of media moguls it may have:William Randolph Hearst, William Loeb, and RobertMcCormick were attracted to the media because theyeach had political agendas, which permeated theirnewspapers. Nearly a century before Italian mediaowner Silvio Berlusconi rose to the top of Italian poli-tics, Hearst, whose newspapers dominated in the Unit-ed States, was elected to the U.S. Congress and harboredpresidential aspirations. But Hearst’s dual roles did notaffect U.S. politics or democracy in any lasting way. Thejury is still out on the effect of Berlusconi’s dual roles.Corporate-owned newspapers may actually pro-vide better products than those that are family owned:Research suggests that large, chain-owned newspapersdevote more space to editorial material than papersowned by small firms. In many parts of South Ameri-ca, where regulation has restricted or prevented cor-porate ownership, family-run enterprises have oftenbeen closely identified with ideological biases or evenwith using political influence to benefit other business-es. Brazilian media enterprise Globo, owned by thepolitically involved Marinho family, encompasses a
network, radio, cable, and magazines. Yet Globo nolonger opposes recent moves to liberalize Brazilianmedia ownership because then it could gain access todesirable foreign investment. As Latin American mediashift from family-owned, partisan media to corporations,observes Latin American media scholar Silvio Wais-bord, the media become less the “public avenues for themany ambitions of their owners,” and their coverage of government corruption “is more likely to be informedby marketing calculations and the professional aspira-tions of reporters.” This trade-off may not be bad.Global media will not necessarily introduceaggressive journalism in places where press freedomhas traditionally been constricted. For instance,News Corp. was criticized for dropping
newsprogramming from Star
presumably to mollifyChinese leaders in the mid-1990s. Yet satellitebroadcaster Phoenix
(in which News Corp.’sStar
maintains a 37.6 percent stake, alongsidethat of the local Chinese owners) sometimes push-es the envelope in China, as when it reported on theelection of Chen Shui-bian as president in Taiwan.
“Corporate Ownership Is Killing Hard-Hitting Journalism”“Global Media Drown Out Local Content”
Most media—like poli-tics—are inherently local. Global firms peddle whol-ly homogeneous content across markets at their peril.Thus,
in Brazil plays a mix of music videos andother programming determined by local producers,even though it shares a recognizable format with
stations elsewhere. News Corp.’s newspapers in theUnited Kingdom look and read differently from those
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