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Owner Influence
Windschuttle cites several examples of interventions by Australian media owners Keith Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch, Frank Packer and Warwick Fairfax (Windschuttle 1988, pp. 264-5).

Rupert Murdoch is well known for this. He controls two-thirds of the newspaper market in Australia (Brewster 1996) as well as one third of the market in Britain through ownership of three of Britain's largest daily national newspapers and two of its largest circulation Sunday papers. He also controls extensive satellite broadcasting in dozens of countries. His Star satellite service beams television to 220 million people in Asia.(Abramsky 1995, p. 16; Gomery 1996, p. 52)

His Fox network in the US is fast becoming a fourth major commercial television network in the US and Fox is moving into cable television with a news service that it hopes will rival CNN, which Murdoch is reported to consider "too liberal" (Gomery 1996, p. 52). Murdoch's media empire also includes book publishing companies in Australia and the US, Festival Records, 20th Century Fox as well as interests in computer software, offshore oil and gas and air transport (Franklin 1994, p. 34).

According to journalist Sasha Abramsky, Murdoch "has—and uses—the power to make British politicians, and to break them unless they toe his line." Murdoch papers gave Margaret Thatcher "glowing press" throughout her rule and Murdoch received a knighthood—one of the few non-British citizens to do so. Thatcher received a "lucrative" book contract from Murdoch's book publishing firm HarperCollins (as did Newt Gingrich whose contract was for $4.5 million). His papers, says Abramsky, "have consistently opposed the peace movement, trade unions, progressive social programs... while supporting the death penalty, lower taxes at any cost and hawkish foreign policies." (1995, p. 16)

The mechanism of control generally exercised by media proprietors is through the appointment of editors, "who become the proprietor's 'voice' within the newsroom, ensuring that journalistic 'independence' conforms to the preferred editorial line" (McNair 1994, p. 42). The power of the media is not just through its editorial line but also in covering some issues rather than others, some views but not others. It is this power that makes politicians so reluctant to cross the large media moguls and regulate the industry in the public interest:

In this sense, the media have enormous power over national elections... those candidates who are placed on the media's agenda have a chance to win; those that are ignored languish. Those issues—either policy or personal—which the media spotlight become the yardsticks for measuring candidates. When candidates receive heavy (and favourable) publicity, their campaigns flourish... (Lichter and Noyes 1995, p. 24)

They also have power to influence the policies that elected governments implement and plenty of reason to exercise that power. "In recent years, media companies have been among the most profitable businesses" in the US. (Lichter and Noyes 1995, p. 4) Chomsky points out:

What is at issue is not the honesty of the opinions expressed or the integrity of those who seek the facts but rather the choice of topics and highlighting of issues, the range of opinion permitted expression, the unquestioned premises that guide reporting and commentary, and the general framework imposed for the presentation of a certain view of the world. (Chomsky 1989, pp. 11-12)

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Abramsky, Sasha, 1995, 'Citizen Murdoch: The shape of things to come?', Extra! Nov/Dec.

Brewster, Deborah, 1996, 'News calls for media ownership deregulation', The Australian, 13 November.

Chomsky, Noam, 1989, Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies (London: Pluto Press)..

Franklin, Bob, 1994, Packaging Politics: Political Communications in Britain's Media Democracy (London: Edward Arnold).

Gomery, Douglas, 1996, A Very High-Impact Player, American Journalism Review July/August.

Lichter, S. Robert and Richard E. Noyes, 1995, Good Intentions Make Bad News: Why Americans Hate Campaign Journalism (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield).

McNair, Brian, 1994, News and Journalism in the UK (London and New York: Routledge)..

Windschuttle, Keith, 1988, The Media: A new analysis of the press, television, radio and advertising in Australia, 2nd ed (Ringwood, Victoria: Penguin).

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© 2003 Sharon Beder