Media empire takes step to world domination

Britain's biggest news company might be about to get bigger. With so much of the media in the hands of so few, should we be worried?

How many individuals ultimately control the hundreds of television programmes, newspapers, magazines, websites, films, games and radio shows that we watch each year? Does it matter?

Both questions leaped into the frame yesterday when Rupert Murdoch, the Australian tycoon who owns Britain’s most powerful media group, was given the green light to expand his empire. The government approved his plans to buy the cable broadcaster BSkyB.

Murdoch already owns 39 per cent of BSkyB. Now, he will bid to control all the remaining shares. If the bid is successful, Murdoch will control The Times, The Sun (Britain’s biggest selling daily), the Sky TV channels as well as many other smaller ventures.

And that’s only in the UK. Globally, Murdoch owns some huge media companies including 20th Century Fox Films and the Fox TV Channels. In fact, if you’re watching TV, going to the cinema or reading a newspaper, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re buying a Murdoch product.

Some people are worried that Murdoch is getting too powerful. An alliance of other media providers, including the companies that own the Guardian and the Daily Mail, told the government to block Murdoch’s bid for BSkyB.

There are some rules that Murdoch will have to follow, if the deal is to go ahead.

Sky News, Murdoch’s TV news channel, will have to split off from the main body of Sky TV, becoming an independent company. But why all the fuss? Partly it’s to do with freedom of the press. In a democracy, citizens need good information in order to make good decisions about who to vote for and what policies to support. Most of this information comes from news, whether from papers, websites or TV.

When powerful tycoons own news outlets, they can interfere with editorial decisions, telling editors to support certain political parties, or paint some public figures in a positive light, or oppose particular policies.

That’s fine when the public have a wide choice of news outlets, but when one person controls too much of the news, they can have too much influence over public opinion.

Mind control Making Sky News independent is meant to prevent Murdoch from becoming too powerful. But control of news is only part of the problem. Today, we’re all exposed to more media products than ever before: magazines, newspapers, TV, films, books, music.

What few realise is that most of these products are made by a tiny number of huge media companies. A few powerful men and women have control over almost everything we read, watch and listen to. Does that mean they can control our ideas?

You Decide

  1. Do films, TV programmes and newspapers affect your opinions about the world?
  2. Would it matter if all the media products in the world were made by one company? Why?

Activities

  1. Think of some of your favourite TV shows, films, books or newspapers. Then do some research to find out who owns the companies that made them. Surprised?
  2. The Guardian and the Daily Mail are two newspapers well known for having strong political opinions. Choose a news story from each and see if you can spot subtle ways in which they might be trying to change your political views.

Some People Say...

“Media moguls are more powerful than politicians.”

What do you think?

Q & A

If so few companies produce so much of the world's media, why are there so many different company names out there?
There are companies within companies within companies. Often it's not very obvious at all who owns what. Did you know, for example, that Rupert Murdoch actually owns the social-networking site Myspace?
Aren't newspapers meant to be independent of their owners?
In theory yes. In practice – not so much.
So where can I go to get truly independent news?
Well, the BBC is funded by the taxpayer and has a legal obligation to be impartial. And there are lots of independent voices online. But the real secret is just to be a critical reader, and always keep your eye out for hidden media agendas.

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