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Rupert Murdoch and the Growing Corporate Influence on Journalistic Freedom

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Last month Trump announced his re-run for president, but his fiasco after a failed election in 2020 has left many apprehensive about the call. The most noteworthy being Rupert Murdoch, founder of News Corporation Ltd. and owner of Fox Corp.

Rupert Murdoch has become one of the most recognizable owners of a media empire today. Fox News, the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal are just a few names on his extensive list of domestic media properties. It doesn’t stop there. He also owns major international news sources in both Australia and the United Kingdom.

As the owner of a media conglomerate, Murdoch has also been presented the unique opportunity to use his connections to not only make waves in politics but to also control the narratives of his most respected outlets. In addition, his BFF status with Trump during his presidential term is a prime example of the type of catastrophe that can ensue from putting a businessman — one who has everything to benefit from the relaxation of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) policy — in such a hands-on relationship with the White House.

Murdoch initially had reservations against Trump at the start of his 2016 campaign. However, he quickly U-turned when it began to look like he was the new Republican favorite. Without a doubt, Murdoch recognizes the importance of cozying up to a political figure, as he had previously done so with U.K. prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. Upon his decision to back Trump, he forged his first close connection with a U.S. president, thus seizing the opportunity to become a significant actor in American politics. In pure strategy, not only would Murdoch become one of Trump’s trusted confidants, but he was also given a fair share of favors throughout the presidency.

The most important favor of all was the selection of Ajit Pai as the head of the FCC. The plans he presented within the FCC maintained a recognizable pattern of making things a lot easier for the media conglomerates over the smaller, local stations. These plans were no doubt something Trump banked on when he had nominated him. Pai as FCC Chair was one way to give Murdoch a say in the governmental agency that regulates the country’s television communications.

Pai got the FCC to relax a “decades-old media ownership rule” that limited the ability of a company to own both a newspaper and television station in the same market. This decision paved the way for businessmen like Murdoch to monopolize companies through media merging. It not only served to decrease diversity and competition, but it was also a death sentence for local media. In 2015, Murdoch was forced to stay out of a deal to buy the Tribune — publisher of the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and Orlando Sentinel — because of the same policy.

Murdoch continued to assert his political influence by enlisting the help of two of his media properties, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post. During Trump’s run, these same properties couldn’t get enough of Trump after Murdoch began to endorse him. The Wall Street Journal even lost staff after management continuously pressured them to normalize Trump during his presidency, shutting down claims about an unbalanced coverage of the former president.

The same was done with both Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. After these relationships with politicians were solidified, Murdoch’s U.K. tabloids shifted their political stances in favor of Murdoch’s new politician friends. A former Blair spokesman even described Murdoch as “a member of Blair’s cabinet.”

Interestingly enough, after Murdoch began to jump ship after the failed 2020 run from Trump, both newspapers began to release highly critical stories about Trump while the New York Post has begun to praise DeSantis — Murdoch’s new top choice for the Republican nomination.

The scariest part about Murdoch isn’t the fact that he owns a multimillion dollar corporation that runs nationwide news stations. It’s the fact that he’s just one man of many who has this degree of power over our media. 

AT&T/Time Warner, CBS, Comcast, Disney, News Corp and Viacom own 90% of the media in the United States. In turn, about 15 billionaires own most U.S. media outlets, therefore controlling most of America’s news consumption. All of these corporations play a dangerous but far too common game: turning simple journalism into a for-profit business. The two have become convoluted. To corporations, the amount of news stations they can own matters more than the quality of the news itself.

As long as these conglomerates use news stations to make their next billion, they will continue to ruin the journalistic integrity of what they produce. Additionally, the systems of capitalism they embody helps them get closer to those in seats of power — Rupert Murdoch being a perfect example of that.

The world certainly isn’t in the hands of the people. It’s unfair that while the average citizen is delegated to just the popular vote, those who have billions can simply call in a political favor that then impacts the entire population.

Journalism should be a space for freedom of speech, not that of corporate interest. If the government cared about upholding the sanctity of fair competition in the marketplace, they would recognize the pattern that’s right in front of their face.

Layla Asgarian Nahavandi is an Opinion Intern for the fall 2022 quarter. She can be reached at lasgaria@uci.edu.