Although I limit my news because I want to limit the negativity in my life, the News Corp scandal in the UK (Thanks for the link and the conversation on ethics Lori.) has implications for freelance writers.
While I like many people weren’t particularly surprised by the wrongdoing at one of Rupert Murdoch’s “news” outlets, it did lead me to look a little further to see exactly how much of our media he owns. According to The State Of The News Media, in the U.S, holdings “include Dow Jones & Company, the Wall Street Journal, 20th Century Fox, the Fox Broadcasting Company, SKY Italia, Harper Collins Publishers, MySpace, hulu.com, Beliefnet, AmericanIdol.com and Rotten Tomatoes.” Scroll down their page a bit and you’ll also see a list of TV stations owned by News Corp.
It wasn’t until the move to deregulate the media in the 1990s that laws were changed that meant someone could own this much media here. There have been many concerns that the consolidation of news outlets and their turn from a sense of service to one of profit only would be bad for democracy because it would severely limit the information the public needs to be a truly well-informed electorate. And that’s what’s happened.
The fact that News Corp editors tapped phones, bribed cops and who knows what else happened in the name of profit in my opinion. The whole ‘if it bleeds it leads’ mentality and the drive to the bottom line has meant news as (poor) entertainment rather than as a source of balanced information.
Oh sure, there’s more access to news in it’s wild variations than ever before. We’ve got hundreds of channels on television, but the ownership is consolidated so the voices are limited. The same thing is true for radio. I have to work to hear the liberal and progressive voices I want to hear and I can only now find them on the internet.
Canada has a law that says in part, “a (broadcast) licenser may not broadcast….any false or misleading news.” It probably won’t happen here because our courts have said, in effect, it’s okay to lie – that’s part of the First Amendment. And I recognize that in many cases the truth is hard to define and our understanding of what’s true can change when more information becomes available. But darn, sometimes it’s tempting to think we could legislate for truth.
What this means, I think, for us as freelance writers, is that we have to be extra careful how we source information. And we have to let our readers know our biases. Transparency isn’t just a nifty buzz word. It’s a door to understanding.
As writers we can be as transparent as possible. As writers we can influence, even demand the same for others. We can also chose to work only for those organizations that promote transparency. We can also support those who are transparent and whose sources prove trustworthy.
We do indeed live in interesting times.
What do you make of the News Corp scandal?
Image from http://www.sxc.hu