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News Corp, Scandal and Freelance Writers

Radio NewsAlthough 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?

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{ 15 comments… add one }
  • I know what you mean about being jaded. I’ve become much more cynical over the years, and no huge scandal shocks me anymore. Because the truth is, this is not the first time something this outrageous- concerning big media outlets- happened. Stuff like this happens in many countries, no matter how much they claim they support true and independent news.

    There is a big difference in what is and what should be. Thankfully, there are many writers who can be impartial. The problem is, it is getting harder to find them on TV or newspapers…
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  • Hi Anne, I like your piece. The only thing I would like to add is that it is not just a purely for profit, but political leverage too. Since Margaret Thatcher’s government, all political parties have negotiated with Murdoch for favourable ‘press’ especially on the build up to elections. Often, an “opinion” piece in one of Murdoch’s “papers” would influence policy. Our current prime minister, David Cameron is good friends with those involved, and socialised with them recently, at least according to the Independent Newspaper. The cohesion between governments, Murdoch, and corporations in my view, has created a world where illegal phone hacking is just a tip of a very big, monstrous iceberg.

  • Anne:

    One small correction: News Corp. doesn’t own MySpace anymore. It managed to unload it last month to a group of investors that includes Justin Timberlake.

    On the phone hacking scandal: maybe I’m jaded, but I just can’t muster any outrage over it. I guess my outrage meter broke when Scooter Libby got his “get out of jail free” card. Honestly, I’m not surprised that the guy who built Fox “News” owns any number of other ethically-challenged enterprises.

    Having said that, am I glad Rupert lost over $500 million on MySpace? You betcha.
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    • Anne

      Thanks Mark… I only checked one source – obviously out of date.

      Hmmm, wonder when my outrage meter broke or stalled… isn’t that a shame… that we don’t feel as much outrage.

  • Thanks for this Anne. Probably the sanest, most straightforward, intelligent thing I’ve read on the scandal to date. And of course it came from a blog, not a major news outlet. Cheers.

  • Anne, this is why you and I get along so well. My post tomorrow is about something similar.

    This scandal was a long time in coming. I’m not shocked by the people involved, but the level at which they went to distort and lead the news. It’s sickening, and it’s happening here on a smaller scale, but it is happening.
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  • I wish I were surprised by the News Corp scandal; the only wonder is that it’s taken so long. I used to teach journalism (including ethics) back in the UK, and Murdoch often came up as an example of what was wrong in journalism. Unfortunately for ethical journalists, this type of scandal gives us all a bad name. Like Cathy, I can’t conceive of going to those lengths for a story – how could I sleep at night? Thanks for raising this, Anne, and for the link to Lori’s equally outstanding post.
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    • Anne

      You’re welcome Sharon, be sure to read Lori’s blog too.

  • I’m English & I can’t tell you how much I despise the British tabloids. And I don’t use the word “despise” too often. I was ecstatic to see this particular one come to its end, especially so because of its recent history. Journalism like this really brings down the industry. I hope that all concerned are treated appropriately and made big examples of. A precedent needs to be set from this point – this type of low-life behavior should not be tolerated.
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    • Anne

      Nicky, how would you compare English tabloids to ours – National Enquirer and the lot, and also reality TV?

  • I have been waiting for other freelance bloggers to mention this scandal. I wrote about it last week. However I in the UK so it is on our doorstep…

    I agree that it is simply a symptom of the general ethics which seem to surround big business and that it has had a negative impact on the profession of journalism. However I think that online media such as blogging – being unregulated – can have a positive role to play in improving standards.

    We can be open about what we say and can be openly challenged. We are not paid for our efforts (directly at least) so we have no loyalties. I think that print media is having trouble keeping up with online and that in the hope they can garner interest from readers they are going to extreme lengths.

    Murdochs empire is coming crumbling down and finally people are questioning the wisdom of having one person in charge of 10% of the world’s media. that has to be a good thing.

    • Anne

      Megan, blogging is unregulated and there is just as much hate and misinformation in blogging as anywhere else, maybe even more because it’s easy to do. I don’t mean blogging should be regulated, not at all. Just that non-regulation isn’t a solution either if you want truth, justice etc. I don’t know what the answer is.

  • Outstanding post, Anne. Like you, I was not at all surprised, and my comment upon hearing it was, They should have shut it down a long time ago.

    The thing is you and I (and most people, I like to think) are not wired like these people. We could not even conceive of the tactics they take. Over the last few years, there has been a wave of negativity and win at all cost that is showcased by Reality TV. The message is the one who does the best job of attacking (not the word I was thinking) 😉 the other guy by ANY means wins the money, the girl, the guy, the whatever.

    Call me Pollyanna (I often call myself that), but I choose to not give them my time or money.
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    • Anne

      Cathy, sometimes I think the best thing we could do for ourselves and our country is smash all the TVs. I’ve been living without one for years, and it’s lovely.

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