Media Giants Over-Stepping Their Roles

July 12, 2011

Rupert Murdoch is only the latest in a long tradition of larger-than-life media moguls crossing the line into politics.  Silvio Berlusconi was a billionaire media giant before becoming Italy’s dominating politician of the past generation.  Horace Greeley and William Randolf Hearst influenced earlier eras of U.S. history by going beyond the role of reporting and editorializing events, using their control over big media to actively participate in political life as kingmakers. 

Ironclad control of the media is an essential early step for aspiring political tyrants and is one of the features that distinguishes democracies from authoritarian regimes.  A free press offers a whole spectrum of opinions and an auditing mechanism for vetting the actions of government and powerful private-sector interests.  The authenticity of that watch-dog function gets blurred, however, when ego-centric giants of media cross the line into politics while still exerting control over their media holdings.  Unfair advantage results, using the media platform to empower political influence and a stature in politics to magnify their media empires.

Murdoch’s influence of politics in America and Britain is a curious case.  As an Australian, he epitomizes the “other” in a time of great testiness over immigration and having proper credentials to enter public life.  The contrast is indeed striking between the ease with which Murdoch’s influence in these countries has grown and the crusade by some to disavow Barack Obama’s entitlement to be president on the now-discredited assertion that he was not born in the U.S.A..

We live in an age of multimedia, with forces unleashed by technology for both good and bad exploitation.  It’s hard to imagine the revolutions of MENA (the Middle East and North Africa) without the new science.  It’s equally easy to imagine the synergies between politics and media going terribly wrong, and the increasing social chaos now being experienced in many advanced economies is the textbook backdrop for such a process.  It happened after the French Revolution, during the inter-war decades in Europe, and at the birth of Russian and later Chinese communism.  It can happen again if the people let it.

Copyright Larry Greenberg 2011.  All rights reserved.  No secondary distribution without express permission.



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