The free press in the West (8) – who owns the Western media?

Russia Today is accused of spreading “propaganda”. The claim is that it is owned by the Russian state and does the bidding of the Russian state. In fact it isn”t true (or is only very slightly true) that RT produces “propaganda”. Their stories are typically well-researched and stand being fact-checked. Anyone who asserts that that isn”t true is not worth arguing with. It”s checkable. What is true is that RT produces the stories which the Russian Foreign Ministry wants them to. It is a tool of Russian Foreign policy. It is just that they use journalism to do this. (The 1% propaganda is that sometimes they can’t help themselves. For example a report on extreme right-wing elements demonstrating in Kiev was filmed so as to make a small crowd seem larger than it was). In short; RT is owned by the Russian state and works for the Russian state. It uses journalism to promote the message the Russian state wants to be promoted.

Who owns the Western press? The following is just a quick glance, not the result of detailed research. The Telegraph – a couple of wealthy private individuals.

The Sun  and the Times – a publicly traded company (Newscorp) 40% of shares owned by one family [1]

Daily Mail – owned by a media company which is publicly traded. One wealthy individual owns a controlling share. [2]

Reuters – a publicly traded company (Newscorp) 53% of shares owned by one family [3]

AP – owned collectively by contributing news agencies in the US [4]

SkyNews – owned by Sky Plc. US media company 20th Century Fox owns c. 40% of the shares [5]

New York Times – part publicly traded and part private owned by one family. [6]

In short the Western media is as owned as RT. Western media is either owned by extremely wealthy individuals. Or it is owned by publicly traded shares. In which case it can be said to be owned by investment houses and the markets in general. AP is something of an exception in being a shared project of multiple US media businesses. What would happen if Reuters started running a series of stories about the deficiencies of capitalism? About how capitalism leads to war and destruction, social alienation, and environmental catastrophe? The values of the shares would start tumbling. The Thomson family’s personal wealth would start evaporating. As with any other capitalist business this would be a crisis. If there is less investment in new technology the company will lose out to its competitors. A downward spiral of uncompetitiveness would start. Any significant loss of share value spells the potential complete demise of the business. Naturally then both the Thomson family and other major shareholders (that is the investment houses who own the shares) would call in the directors and either sack them or tell them to change course.

Reuters is not going to publish news stories or analysis which is critical of capitalism. More than that; it will produce stories which are good in general terms for the stock-market – of which it is a part. The same is true for all the above media organisations with the possible exception of AP which will be influenced by the prevailing opinion amongst owners and directors of major US media businesses. The Western press is not “free” in contrast to “state owned Russian media” (or Chinese or whatever). It is just owned by a different power group. This fact doesn’t mean that the Western press will produce propaganda. They could follow the same system as Russia Today – use journalistic standards to tell the stories which suit the political line set by their owners. But they could only do this if this message can be told in a way which is truthful and fact-checkable. As it turns out the capitalist message – that everyone wants “freedom” and “democracy”, that these are absolute “goods” and that the US and its allies are bringing this to the world in some sort of morally disinterested way isn’t true. That”s why, the Western media in doing its owners bidding, produces propaganda. They have to. The story is neither true nor fact-checkable. [7] That they do produce propaganda is demonstrable. And in case all that isn’t enough the US government does directly fund its own media station. Radio Free Europe broadcasts into Eastern Europe. Its annual budget is USD 92 million. [8]

Notes

1. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/mediatechnologyandtelecoms/media/8841452/Top-ten-News-Corp-voting-shareholders.html

2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daily_Mail_and_General_Trust

3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Woodbridge_Company

4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Associated_Press

5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sky_plc

6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_York_Times_Company

7. An example of how Western media tells stories which defy facts would be the narrative on Iraq and WMD. Leaving aside the theatrical aspect of this (WMD are no worse than large-scale cluster bombing for example) anyone who cared to check the facts in the lead up to the Iraq war had at hand the book “War on Iraq” by ex UNSCOM inspector Scott Ritter and journalist William Rivers Pitt. The Western media parroted the line produced by the political elites. Good journalism which showed the gaping holes in this narrative was published at the margins in a book by an independent publisher. (Profile Books 2002).

Often the Western media tells the narrative offered by US and UK politicians while at the same time publishing sufficient facts to show that the narrative is false. For example the press repeated the narrative line about how the elected Ukrainian President Yanukovych fled Kiev and the “opposition” responsibly stepped in to take the reigns of government. The Western press referred to this junta using terms like “interim team” and “interim government”. This account of what happened in Ukraine cannot be accepted as a “true” narrative in the face of the facts of violent attacks made on policemen and broken agreements made by the opposition. These matters were to some extent at least were being reported in the Western press but the false narrative was superimposed on the facts.

8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_Free_Europe/Radio_Liberty’

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