20 March 2012

Information is the currency of democracy

So said Bob Brown, but of course it’s been said before.

I was at the launch of a new book by David McKnight on the political power of the Murdoch media empire (Rupert Murdoch : An investigation of political power / David McKnight. Crows Nest, NSW : Allen & Unwin, 2012). The event was organised by the Australia Institute and it occurred in the backyard of the Manning Clark House. The session was a discussion with David and Bob, led by questions from the AI’s Exec Director, Richard Denniss, and some audience questions. It wasn’t a large group in attendance and I wondered if they were disproportionately grey-haired. Perhaps the printed media is considered old hat, but they retain their agenda-setting importance and this inevitably gives political power, and this political power is very poorly contested in Australia, with only 2 major newspaper chains (News Ltd and Fairfax) and News Ltd having 70% of the overall market and several markets to itself. This allows News Ltd a great ability to share costs or cross-subsidise across its fleet of papers. There’s plenty of discussion of the power of media barons, and Murdoch/News Ltd in particular. Some interesting themes were: “everything comes down to the market” as an “emaciated view”; democracy is getting ideas out, yes, but not just selected points of view; exclusion as a key tactic in moulding political thought; big parties are restrained on climate change and politicians are “supine”; “the problem is .. you seek consistency” rang a bell; the call for inquiries by media, but the fretting over Finkelstein’s mild suggestions; more positively, the ultimate success of alternative themes in the face of media obstruction over recent decades, eg, feminism and environmentalism; the threats to media power when they break the rules and are seen to do so; the dangers for any power when it chooses the wrong side, eg, against science (Physics waits for no man); “we live in a work where wealth counts” evidenced by the ability to gain Australian residency with $250K in your pocket; “Australians are generous, good-hearted people, but fear is a great motivator” in reference to boat people; the power that comes with massive wealth is plutocracy - now in battle with democracy; the effectiveness of Murdoch as a great business person and the business-centred biographies written over the years. I felt it was an interesting encounter if sometimes disheartening. Despite the GFC, plutocracy keeps gaining, and we get closer to various emergencies: climate change, peak whatever. But I was thinking of another quote by the end: death comes to all men.

  • Abstract of Rupert Murdoch : An investigation of political power
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