Imagine we lived in a Britain where a handful of multi-millionaires owned almost the entire media, and had names like Viscount Rothermere, Lord Northcliffe and Baron Beaverbrook.
That was the situation only a few decades ago. Today, it would be hard for us to imagine a media system of that nature could describe itself as “free” or the “fourth estate”, and claim to be a tenacious watchdog of other power centres.
The media of that time, most of us would agree now, was simply a tool of the upper class, looking out for its interests. It really was no more complicated than that.
And yet, as Nafeez Ahmed argues in the lengthy article below, the English-speaking world today is little different. Instead of Lords and Viscounts, we have a handful of trans-national corporations, with annual turnovers in the billions or trillions, that control almost our entire media.
In the US, just six huge conglomerates own not just all the newspapers and TV channels, but every lens through which we perceive the world: the films, music, ads, and popular websites we consume every waking moment.
The personnel who control these media conglomerates are not only fabulously wealthy but have diverse business interests that will be affected by how our societies are run, what laws apply or don’t, and how foreign policy is made.
Even more worrying, as Ahmed highlights in detail, the heads of these media corporations often have additional interests in military and defence corporations, what he terms a “media-military-industrial complex”.
Ahmed: “Consider, then, the fact that these individuals simultaneously hold senior positions in global media conglomerates and giant defence contractors, profiting directly from the dividends of ‘reconstruction’ in devastated war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, on the back of wars enabled by their own propaganda.”
And yet most of us continue to look to the media for an impartial and accurate picture of the world, simply because Time Warner, Walt Disney, Viacom and News Corp, unlike their recent forebears, don’t preface their names with the title Lord or Viscount. These faceless, profit-driven corporations have persuaded us that they are dispassionate, neutral and classless – unlike their all too flesh-and-blood predecessors.
Even with the new possibilities offered by the internet, most traffic is still limited to sites that are controlled by these same big players.
And the new platforms like Google, as Ahmed’s and Wikileak’s investigations show, have enjoyed ties to western security establishments from the very beginning of their development. Edward Snowden’s revelations show they continue to cooperate closely with state surveillance agencies like the NSA.
Ahmed: “These examples demonstrate the nature of the networks that dominate the global corporate media: an interlocking nexus of private defence contractors, banks, investment firms, and corporate giants with a vested interest in perpetuating the power and privilege of their own class: no matter the implications for the loss of life of millions of people.”
Ahmed also outlines how these modern media barons, and their enablers in the political class, are starting to undermine the outposts in the new media where real information and critical thinking flourish.