As Aldous Huxley very rightly put in his Brave New World: “Words can be like X-rays. If you use them properly, they'll go through anything.” I find this a fair illustration of the significant role that language plays in the transfer of ideas and in shaping the society, the culture, and… the entire world we live in. So, should an unregulated flow of words and media products – ultimately, ideas – be allowed, given all their power and influence over people, who then (attempt to) decide how things function? This question becomes even more significant when put into the modern-world context: we see a “chicken or the egg”-type debate about media content and gradually shifting patterns of demand.
Siochrú and Girard point out that media products are special because they are essentially the tools of “society production.” In order not to get back to the discussion of the media shaping identities, suffice it to say that their statement is in itself a powerful argument for a cautious regulation of the media market, especially as it is increasingly privatized and taken over by commercial interests.
A free media market essentially implies equilibrium. This can work perfectly well… in theory. In reality, many times people forget to ask about how that market demand is created. A second question that needs to be urgently addressed is whether, given the above-mentioned special status of the media products, the mega-corporations should be given the unlimited freedom to create that demand. I see the matter as an ethical issue (especially when it comes to news reporting and journalism), unless, of course, the sole acceptable morality is that of profit-maximization and instant gratification.
The traditional “mainstream” approach in the US seems to have been very critical of the European (as well as other governments’) attempts to regulate or, at least, carefully monitor the media market. Well, perhaps justly so. After all, a true democracy cannot function without freedom of speech and a free flow of information. However, I still find it hard to understand how a system that took such great care to create a meticulous structure of checks and balances can be inclined to completely overlook a fundamental threat to its very existence. With the increasing trend of privatization and liberalization of the media markets, which gave way to the rise of the large transnational media empires, the very democracy that freedom is supposed to facilitate is being jeopardized, as the corporations start to acquire and exert political influence.
Yet, their influence – acquired through large profits channeled into active lobbying and “support” campaigns, in expectation of favorable policies and treatment – is not limited to the political sphere. It is no secret that media ownership affects content and that through carefully directed programming, media companies can potentially cultivate the demand for specific “products”, create and promote ideas and social movements, and even kick-start revolutions. The first example that jumps to the mind is the claim made by the Iranian regime about the June presidential election. However, why go there? Let’s look at the US and Obama’s healthcare plan debacle.
Of course, Al-Jazeera, being the channel that it is, is NOT unbiased, but still it provides a very good alternative insight into the recent 9/12 demonstrations and the role Fox News played in all that. Needless to mention, of course, that Fox is one of the central pillars of Murdoch’s empire, and that there is absolutely no coincidence in the fact that he had recently begun voicing his concerns about Obama’s approach to the economy, calling him “dangerous.”
Freedom of speech and information, whether in the national realm or in the global sphere, was meant to serve as a vehicle to ensure plurality and diversity of opinions, as well as best possible access to the best possible information. Being fundamental to democracy, these were also supposed to improve governance AND effectively check the government’s power. Thus, the media were meant to be the “domain of information” and supposedly assumed the responsibility to act as the fourth estate, in the public’s best interest. And yet, the recent trends of conglomeration, privatization, and deregulation have resulted in a situation of decreased competition and domination by aggressively profit-driven corporations that gradually become the very power that was meant to be contained. And so it happens that by “using the words properly” the transnational media corporations are spinning the idea of freedom to serve their own ends, defeating the very purpose of the much-cherished First Amendment.