We often picture the media as some sort of public watchdog that is supposed to bark ferociously at any political, economic or corporate wrongdoing. It is the job of journalists and in turn the media to represent the interests of the people, us. This responsibility is often referred to as the Forth Estate.
But as Roman poet Juvenal once said,“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”
Who watches the watcher?
At the moment the Australian media is under the control of a select few people and/or companies. This means that for those (like me) who occasionally glance at the Illawarra Mercury, the news we read is produced by a select few (in this case Fairfax Ltd).
Which leads us to the controversial question, “Does it matter who controls the media?”
And the answer really that depends on two things: the function of the media and whether the media has influence on its audience.
So what exactly is the function of the media then?
According to the Australian Press Council the media has a responsibility to ensure community has access to information of public interest, and the freedom of expression within the media. Having a free media is a part of our democratic right to free speech. It protects our right to communicate with each other and our government regardless of race, gender, culture, sexual orientation, age or any other determining factor.
This means that in order for the media to successfully achieve this purpose it needs to adhere to Impartiality. This is the practice of the media presenting all views or a wide selection of opinions on a particular circumstance or idea. If only a few people control majority of the media, impartiality is not truly achieved. Instead of a watchdog, the media starts to look like a squeaky Chihuahua.
Does the media have influence over its audience and if so then what is it?
The media often plays an important role in shaping the way we think. One of the pioneers in early radio studies, Herta Herzog demonstrated the level of influence a media (in this case radio “soap opera’s” drama) on an audience. She discovered that the media presents “… a model of reality by which one is to be taught how to think and how to act.” (Herzog, 2004, pg 157). Put simply, the media is a tool that can change a societies ideologies.
Perhaps one of the most famous examples of this in practice was the extensive use of Nazi propaganda used to spread fear and hatred towards minorities during WWII. Minister for Public Enlightenment, Joseph Goebbels used the media to maintain control over the people.
So we come back to the BIG question…
If we value democracy and freedom of speech as important aspects of a society (which in Australia we do) and know that the media has a direct influence over the way we think does it matter who controls the media?
Yes, it does.
Right to know: the ‘nation’, the ‘people’ and the Fourth Estate 2013, The Conversation, viewed 29 March, <http://theconversation.com/right-to-know-the-nation-the-people-and-the-fourth-estate-21253>.
About Us, Illawarra Mercury, viewed 28 March, <http://www.illawarramercury.com.au/about-us/)>.
Australian Press Council, viewed 28 March, <http://www.presscouncil.org.au/>.
Brewer, D 2016, Impartiality in Journalism, Media Helping Media, viewed 29 March, <http://www.mediahelpingmedia.org/training-resources/editorial-ethics/238-impartiality-in-journalism>.
Herzog, H 2004, ‘On Borrowed Experience An Analysis of Listening to Daytime Sketches From Studies in Philosophy and Social Science 1941’, in (ed.), Mass Communication and American Social Thought: Key Texts, 1919 – 1968, Rowman & Littlefield, USA, pp. 139 – 157.
Biography.com Editors 2016, Joseph Goebbels Biography, The Biography, viewed 28 March, <http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/joseph-goebbels>.
McCutcheon, M & Pusey, M 2011, ‘From The Media Moguls To The Money Men? Media Concentration In Australia’, Media International Australia, no. 140, pp. 22-34.
Media Interests Snapshots, ACMA, viewed 28 March, <http://www.acma.gov.au/theACMA/media-interests-snapshot>.