The Influence of Media Owners
It is an understatement to state that media owners have an influence on media practice, especially the news. This is simply because even though journalists owe an unalloyed responsibility to their country, society, and their personal conscience, pressures deny them the freedom they need to perform their duties. Journalists have to make a tough choice between the demands of media professionalism and the policies and interests of their media proprietors. For journalists to serve the personal interests of the owners, they have to betray subtly their professional conduct. Drawing a compromise line between the social responsibility of the media profession and the owner’s personal objectives is never an easy task.
When dealing with contentious issues, journalists all over the globe have tried to balance between professionalism and media owners’ policy objectives. The mass media, whose main function is to absorb and disseminate accurate information, must be taken for who they are; they are a vital cog of the society who profoundly affects the existing social relations (Chomsky, 1989). Competing power has been at the center of the problems that the media practice is faced with, because it contributes to the lack of freedom of press laws. The existence of religious, cultural, and tribal groups with their views on how a certain country should be governed hamper settled political philosophies, which makes media owners take sides with certain groupings in a country.
Chomsky (1989) states that it is impossible to have an independent press, because news is an agent of the people who exercise economic and political control. This means that, despite of the democratic principles guiding a society, the benevolence of the government, or the advancement of the society, the media will always suffer from uncalled control by those holding and operating the apparatus of power.
The owners of media houses are usually political leaders or other influential people. That is where the problem lies. In some countries, especially African ones, governments own influential media houses. In fact, many governments have a national broadcasting station; any person who takes control of such a station owns the people. It is, therefore, no wonder that if rebels want to overthrow the government, the first strike they make is on the national broadcaster.
The major aim of the media is to right the wrongs of the government. The media keeps the government in check by reporting the actions of the government to people. In most cases, the media reports on the wrongs of the government. Seventy percent of news items in leading television stations are on the actions of the government, or on the relations between the governments. The job of news reporters becomes difficult if the government owns them, or if they are receiving direct instructions from the government. Any rational reporter will guard his or her interests i.e. their job, before the interests of the public. Therefore, their jobs come first; reporting on the negatives of their employers puts their jobs in jeopardy.
The concentration of media ownership is a problem for the contemporary society and the media. The ownership can sometimes be based on improper factors that may have undesirable consequences, including serving the interests of the sponsors or the owners rather than the public, to whom the media owes the duty and the responsibility to deliver information. This scenario makes owners suppress stories that go against their interests. The result of this is suffering of the public, since they rarely receive information on critical issues that influence them.
Media censorship is a global problem notwithstanding the freedoms existing in the constitutions of respective countries. This calls for adoption of dramatic measures, if the society has any hope of laying a firm grip on media practice. Owners have achieved this through the following means: heavy taxation, repressive legislation assuming control of significant production inputs, issuing of death threats to journalists, rough treatment of media personnel, assassination of influential journalists, and closure of the houses in dire cases.
Owners constrain the editorial independence of their editors. Although this is one of the most damaging vices, the owners deny vehemently such a wrongdoing. In certain cases, especially during elections, owners may force their editors to paint a certain candidate positively or negatively (McNair, 1994). Candidates that owners place in the agenda have a higher likelihood of emerging victorious than those that the media ignores. The owners also introduce a conflict of interests. Journalists rarely know whom to serve – the public, who might be suffering, or their employers, who have selfish interests. The owners impose unnecessary commercial pressures, which reduce the editorial freedom of the workers.
One mechanism of control that media owners commonly use is the appointment of editors. Editors become the voice of the owner in the newsroom, making sure that the independence of journalists conforms to their preferred editorial line. The editors then influence the choice of topic that reporters cover. In certain cases, the owners draft influential reporters and journalists to influential government positions to make them identify with the needs of the owners (McNair, 1994).
However, over the past decade, the media profession has made significant steps towards ensuring a complete independence of journalists. It is ironical that governments worldwide have been at the forefront to see this happen by supporting legislation that supports the rights of reporters. The privatization of leading news outlets across the globe has also played a key role in averting the media debacle.
Chomsky, N. (1989). Thought Control in Democratic Societies. London: Pluto.
McNair, B. (1994). News and Journalism in the UK. London and New York: Routledge.