Who do you think is the most powerful man in the world? Many would argue the president of the United States, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, or maybe the head of the EU. While these are very public powerful figures, the real power I believe lies covertly and behind the scenes, and I believe the man who is most positioned to have that influence is Rupert Murdoch.
Starting with an inherited newspaper in Adelaide, Australia, Rupert Murdoch has built his empire into a multinational media conglomerate that is second only to The Walt Disney Company. Murdoch is known to have invented the modern day tabloid, where quick sound bites and shock headlines outweigh objective reporting. Today, Murdoch’s News Corp owns nine satellite television networks, 100 cable channels, 175 newspapers, 40 book imprints, 40 television stations, and a multi-billion dollar movie studio. This incredible breadth of media reaches 280 million by television in the United States, 300 million by satellite in Asia, 300 million people through cable, and 28 million through newspapers. There has been strong criticism of the practices used by News Corp. to get information by stories, with the pinnacle of this criticism being the criminal behavior exhibited by Murdoch’s ***News of the World newspaper/tabloid when they hacked the phone of numerous celebrities and victims, even going so far as to hack the phone of a missing girl – giving her parents false hope that since it was evident her voicemail has been accessed, maybe she was still alive. What does this mean and why is it important?
Media is the nervous system of a democracy. If it isn’t functioning properly or is functioning with an inherent bias, then ultimately democracy is undermined by this misinformation. With Murdoch’s empire, a strong and focused conservative narrative is relayed throughout, which is significant because firstly, his reach is unparalleled across the globe, and secondly, there is no counter weight to what Murdoch’s empire does. Sure, MSNBC and ABC have bias. However, their bias isn’t a planned and orchestrated agenda reverberated across a global media conglomerate. This role as “communication arm” for the conservative agenda is most evident back in February when The Daily Show busted Fox & Friends reading directly from a Republican National Committee memo about talking points against the president. Essentially, this means that Murdoch has the capacity to create and push whatever story or facts that they want; this is a dangerous power to have when there is no counter-weight to what they’re doing. However, why does this matter?
The reason this matters is because a powerful and unparalleled media is a threat to discourse and democracy. The Venezuelan coup of 2002 was largely sponsored by the media, and would have been successful if the truth hadn’t leaked out. Murdoch’s brash and baited headlines from his first tabloids to get viewers is a strategy still used today through his television and online media presences, and it all comes under the greatest marketing slogan ever created in its context – “Fair and Balanced.” Murdoch’s empire is neither fair nor balanced, and maybe it doesn’t have to be. Should a single individual and company have this much influence? That is something for you to decide. While Murdoch has worked hard to build a conglomerate through less than ethical practices, as long as the public is content with shocking headlines and out of context sound bites crowding out objective journalism, Murdoch will continue to gain power and influence across the globe.