Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox (21CF) recently made their position very clear in relation to their second attempt at acquiring Sky Plc and growing their empire into one of the largest media conglomerates in the world.
But, from the UK government’s point of view there’s a problem; one company controlling so many media outlets could mean that this new media giant would find it simple to publicise their owner’s own political or economic ideologies through its UK media outlets. There are concerns that this could hark back to the celebrated media tycoon of the 1800s, William Randolph Hearst, who was able to influence the voting patterns of the USA’s electorate with stories that suited his ideology. “Hearst used his newspapers as a platform and pursued the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in 1904.” (Campbell, 2017)
The Murdoch family could see their plans scuppered if the Culture Secretary, Karen Bradley MP, decides to halt the Sky/21CF merger due to issues over Media Plurality. Her view is that there is a “risk of increased influence by members of the Murdoch family trust over the UK news agenda and the political process” (Bradley, 2017). Is the Culture Secretary correct by implying that profit could allow the Murdoch family to misuse its increased influence over UK media?
It could happen, there’s plenty of precedent elsewhere. For example, the ground-breaking work by Herman & Chomsky in 1974 being denied publication because the parent company of the publisher did not approve of the book’s content. So much so, “that the parent company, Warner Communications, simply decided to put the publisher out of business and to end the whole story that way.” (Chomsky, 2017)
Herman & Chomsky were able to publish their 1988 book Manufacturing Consent – The Political Economy of the Mass Media, which examines how the ownership of media such as TV stations could affect the output of that media. They believe that media doesn’t exist to serve the public. Or to allow the public to better understand the world around them. The media is there to allow those in power to control the message being seen by the public. Or, in other words, to be used as a propaganda machine by media owners and government.
Herman & Chomsky believe that there are 5 “filters” that affect how news/views are produced. The first two of Chomsky’s five filters of the Mass Media Machine, say that the message the public sees is influenced by ideologies or economic reasons: “The essential ingredients of our propaganda model, or set of news “filters,” fall under the following headings:
- the size, concentrated ownership, owner wealth, and profit orientation of the dominant mass-media firms;
- advertising as the primary income source of the mass media”
(Herman and Chomsky, 1988)
So according to Chomsky’s filters, Ms Bradley could be correct that profit could outweigh journalistic balance. As Davies explains, the search for profits has diluted the work of a journalist. So much so that they are no longer able to spend time sourcing stories and instead are reduced to “working in a news factory, without the time to check, without the chance to go out and make contacts and find leads, reporters are reduced to churnalism, to the passive processing of material which overwhelmingly tends to be supplied for them by outsiders, particularly wire agencies and PR agencies. (Davies, 2011).
So, the fact that “Sky has threatened to shut down Sky News if the news channel proves to be an obstacle in Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox bid. (BBC, 2017) shows that Sky’s owners will protect their organisation and if any part of the empire threatens the mega profits of the merged company, it is expendable.
Al Jazeera English, A. (2017). NOAM CHOMSKY – The 5 Filters of the Mass Media Machine. [online] YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34LGPIXvU5M [Accessed 10 Nov. 2017].
BBC, N. (2017). Sky threatens to shut down Sky News. [online] BBC News. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41909321 [Accessed 10 Nov. 2017].
Bradley, K. (2017). Ofcom conclusion to Culture Secretary Karen Bradley on proposed merger of 21st Century Fox & Sky. [online] YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgNj9KP1ik0&feature=youtu.be [Accessed 10 Nov. 2017].
Campbell, J. (2017). William Randolph Hearst: Mythical media bogeyman. [online] BBC News. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-14512411 [Accessed 11 Nov. 2017].
Campbell, W. (2017). William Randolph Hearst: Mythical media bogeyman. [online] BBC News. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-14512411 [Accessed 11 Nov. 2017].
Chomsky, N. (2017). Noam Chomsky – The Political Economy of the Mass Media – Part 1 HD. [online] YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5E6lez9Q3I&t=145s [Accessed 10 Nov. 2017].
Davies, N. (2011). Flat earth news. 1st ed. London: Random House, p.73.
Garrahan, M. (2017). Ofcom rules Fox News breached UK broadcasting standards. [online] Financial Times. Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/d3d721ac-c30c-11e7-a1d2-6786f39ef675 [Accessed 10 Nov. 2017].
Garrahan, M. and Fontanella-Khan, J. (2017). Disney held talks to buy most of 21st Century Fox. [online] Ft.com. Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/03f7c04a-c32a-11e7-b2bb-322b2cb39656 [Accessed 23 Nov. 2017].
Google.co.uk. (2017). sky plc market cap – Google Search. [online] Available at: https://www.google.co.uk/search?ei=YH8FWq_IIIaBgAbL5pigBw&q=sky+plc+market+cap&oq=sky+plc+market+cap&gs_l=psy-ab.3..35i39k1j0i30k1j0i8i30k1.744295.747290.0.747510.7.7.0.0.0.0.85.518.104.22.168….0…1.1.64.psy-ab..0.7.516…0i7i30k1j0i7i10i30k1j0i20i263k1j0i7i5i30k1j0i5i30k1j0i13k1j0i8i7i30k1j0i13i30k1.0.2AOle6pxoXE [Accessed 10 Nov. 2017].
Google.co.uk. (2017). 21cf market cap – Google Search. [online] Available at: https://www.google.co.uk/search?ei=TYIFWtr3LOSMgAblzKBQ&q=21cf+market+cap&oq=21cf+market+cap&gs_l=psy-ab.3..35i39k1.49759.52889.0.53622.214.171.124.0.0.0.89.4126.96.36.199….0…1.1.64.psy-ab..0.6.465…0i7i30k1j0i5i30k1j0i67k1.0.kgf7e5_6T3g [Accessed 10 Nov. 2017].
Herman, E. and Chomsky, N. (1988). Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. 2nd ed. [ebook] London: The Bodley Head, p.1129. Available at: http://www.amazon.co.uk [Accessed 9 Nov. 2017].
Mediadb.eu. (2017). Media Data Base – International Media Corporations 2015. [online] Available at: https://www.mediadb.eu/en.html [Accessed 23 Nov. 2017].
White, S. (2017). Ofcom_letter_to_DCMS_4_September_2017__1. [ebook] London: Ofcom, p.2. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/644129/Ofcom_letter_to_DCMS_4_September_2017__1_.pdf [Accessed 10 Nov. 2017].
Let’s take a look at the Proposed merger between Sky & 21st Century Fox – through the first 2 of Herman & Chomsky’s 5 filters of Media Ownership.