Communication power: when economic interests clashes with the public interest.
“Journalism is to spread what someone does not want you to know, the rest is propaganda”.
Words of Horacio Verbitzky, Argentine writer and investigative journalist, spokesman for the policies truths concerning President Carlos Menem’s administration (see the two scandals Swiftgate and Milkgate) and author of TheFlight, bestseller revelation of inhumane behavior held by the Argentine military during the Dirty War . A journalist active and “engaged” who believes that the purpose of journalism is
“to put into the light what is hidden, to be a witness and, therefore, to disturb”.
Journalism is not just writing articles, it is not only to provide information. It is research, investigation, activism, patience,straight face, initiative, courage; it’s to search for news and open your eyes to the world; it’s truth revealed and shared with the public. Or at least, so it should be.
The problem of traditional journalism is that “spreading what someone does not want you to know” is more difficult than ever.Today the world’s major newspapers are in the hands of a few large multinational conglomerate, focused on the media sector. News Corporation, Lagardegroup, Hearst Corporation and Organizacoes Glob are just some of the principal. The world of communication is therefore highly centralized, threatening the plurality of voices and freedom of expression.
Juan Llobell, journalist and editor of the Spanish magazine Capital, specialized in economics, believes that this spiral of concentration is designed to accelerate and intensify with the current economic crisis and the “existential” crisis that the media are crossing nowadays.
“Concentration in a few hands is a real problem for freedom of expression and the democratic society because it limits the diversity of opinions and makes journalistic products excessively oriented towards the search of profitability. – explains Llobell – (Concentration) Makes a bad service both to citizens who can not form their own public opinion, and to democracy, because the big media groups, which work with the same logic as any other big company, prefer to avoid friction with the political and economic power. “
Translated in terms of the information that people receive daily, this means less determinants and diversified news, and more scoop and gossip in order to shift public attention on issues of lesser importance. The real problem, therefore, is not that large and profitable groups possess media, what could have a positive outcome in the name of independence of the press from further political or economic pressures.
“The important thing is that there are many, strong, and ideologically different groups” adds Llobell.
The unacceptable it that should be checked and pursued is the manipulation of public opinion in order to achieve economic interests as individuals, families or a very small group. It could be argued that the aptitude to do self-interesit is inherent to human nature and is therefore obvious that the owner of a newspaper pretends that his “child” talk about him in the best way.
Which would be acceptable if it was not a newspaper, the traditional means of disseminating news. Manage a media, from print to television and radio, means that you has a power that goes beyond the purely economic scope: means that you have in your hands a social power that acts in a direct and continuous way (often the twenthy four hours of the day, in the case of television) to an audience that is almost the totality of the inhabitants of this planet. And what is worse, you are using it to your advantage.
See the case of the News of the World, the British tabloid dedicated to scandalous scoop, of property of Murdoch Group. It was the most followed in England, at least until last year, when after a scandal of unlawful interception against politicians, real , actors, and others VIPs, was forced to close its doors. A scandal that shook public opinion in England and struck the media empire of Rupert Murdoch, Australian magnate owner of News Corporation, questioning his credibility and the legitimacy of the British press to the public eye. Write and publish only to sell, according to the Machiavellian principle that “the end justifies the means”. A system unethical and highly damaging for the image of the media and of an entire nation, which has always been characterized by a journalistic tradition inspired by the values of objectivity, transparency and justice. The case of the News of the World also introduced a political element: one of the people involved in the events was Andy Coulson, editor of the tabloid, but at the same time spokesman and director of telecommunications of the British Prime Minister, David Cameron. During the investigation of the case, known as the Leveson Inquiry, by the name of the judge to whom the investigation has been entrusted, an important part was dedicated to the issue of media concentration in the hands of multinational corporations and their influence on who should be the law enforcers and the protectors of the public interest before anything else.
Steven Barnett, professor of the University of Westminster, analyzing the situation in question, pointed out the danger that this situation leads to a democratic society.
“A major reason why the culture and practices of the press were – particularly amongst the tabloids – neither properly investigated nor adequately penalised was because of a deep-seated fear within the political classes of the power wielded by media conglomerates whose expansion went uncheck “
The worrying fact is that this phenomenon is not isolated: the English landscape in fact reflects the landscape of many other European reality. Murdoch is to England as Berlusconi is to Italy, just to give an example.
In a future perspective, it is therefore crucial to consider how to ensure the independence of the press and media in general from outside and strangers interests, in order to preserve the diversity and values of the journalism.
There is who believe in the power of online media as means to create a new kind of journalism opened at all that spread the news without filters, which would be great for pluralism but at the same time dangerous for the credibility and authenticity of the news. Others wish a legislative regulation to controls and put a stop to corporate power, without necessarily raising rigid barriers but rather by establishing clear limits so that capitalist interests maintain the right distance and do not encroach on the territory belonging by right to the public interest. Questionable option because of the frequent links between multinational corporations and political power, and the plots that are often hidden under the table.
It’s important do not forget to analyze a last factor: the audience. Why the News of the World used illegal means to obtain personal and confidential informations and write scandalous articles to sell to its readers? Because that was what his audience wanted. Gossip and scoop on celebrities and all the “famous” people attract readers like honey attracts bees. The public is an essential element: it is not only who receives the information, it is above all the person to whom the information is directed, it is the one who influences and affects the news’ market with his tastes and desires. The interests of media owners go where they feel smell of gain, and their earnings depends on what readers are looking for. If it is true that public opinion can be manipulated, it is also true that often it let itself manipulate by others without putting up too much resistance.
“Why thinking and striving to build my own critical thinking when there are those who do it for me?”. Because then we can not complain supporting trivial matters, accusing society and large multinationals and globalization to dominate and manipulate the journalism and all other media. We do not live in a society like that of Fahrenhait 451. No one blocks the access to information. Nowadays, there are plenty of means to inform us. What often miss is the curiosity to read, investigate, and go in search of the truth.
And when it fails, then yes, start to raise the voice.