Concentration of media ownership is a serious problem across the world. Since the media is considered the ‘Fourth Pillar’ of democracy, it is imperative that it remains diverse and free of commercialization. Unfortunately, the reality is quite the opposite. In this context, Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, stands as a symbol of this dire imbalance. News Corporation, under the leadership of Rupert Murdoch, has unparalleled power and reach in the news media industry. The Murdoch Empire spans several continents, with significant footholds in Australia, United States and the United Kingdom. Founded and headquartered in Australia, the company now boasts of being the number one newspaper publisher in the world, with a cumulative daily readership of 14 million in these three countries alone. Murdoch has a near monopoly in the media space in Australia, owning two-thirds of all newspaper circulation in the country. Across the Tasman Sea, in New Zealand, he owns nearly half. Further, he is the owner of two fifths of the Australian Associated Press. (Knowlton & Parsons, 2005, p. 200) These holdings are notwithstanding his considerable market share in Britain and the United States. These statistics bear testimony to the Murdoch’s media monopoly. Between the lines one can read the dangers posed by monopoly in an industry that is crucial to socio-cultural discourse.
One of the negative consequences of media concentration is that it nullifies ethical standards of journalism. News Corp’s official Standards of Business Conduct (SBC) document makes some bold claims. But the company’s actual behaviour is contradictory to these claims. For example, in the area of building trust with business partners and customers, it claims that trust and integrity are of utmost importance. The manner in which the company actually functions makes a mockery of these ethical concerns. There are several instances where News Corp had colluded with political organizations to attain favourable deals.
One of the first instances of News Corp’s opportunistic use of political connections came to light in1995. Murdoch struck a book deal with the then House Speaker of the United States Congress Newt Gingrich for a substantial sum of $4.5 million. The ethical problem was obvious in this case. Murdoch, who was even at that time an influential and trans-global media personality, owned a newspaper chain and several television stations. He stood to gain enormously through the relationship with the Speaker. It was only after severe public backlash that Gingrich decided to return the advance and settled for sales-driven royalties. (Rohm, 2012, p.336) If the contract had remained valid, the democratic political processes of the country would have been compromised. Events such as these showcase the dangers of media concentration.