Friday, September 6, 2013

Inside Story : Who Controls the Media -III


Concentration of media ownership- A global trend

A media tycoon who believes in sharing the political power, Murdoch has consistently backed every winning British Prime Minister since 1979.

By Neeraj Mahajan

Imagine a western democracy where only nine billionaires control 90% of a country's daily newspapers, television networks, cable systems, high-speed internet access, radio waves and most of its major web portals. 

Canada has the most concentrated TV industry ownership and the second most concentrated TV audience of the entire G8 community. The Canadian media ownership remains in the hands of a few people like Media baron Conrad Black who has the power and money to control the means of production and communication. Besides international newspapers like the "London Telegraph" and "Jerusalem Post" Conrad Black's Hollinger Inc. owns and controls 58 of Canada's 105 daily newspapers. Another such company the Brunswick News Inc. owns every English language daily, majority of weeklies, and almost all French-language newspapers in the New Brunswick province. The family-owned Irving group that owns Brunswick News Inc. also owns hundreds of other businesses in dozens of different sectors in the province. TV distributors like Bell, Rogers and Shaw also own cable and over-the-air TV channels in Canada. Canada’s largest media company, Bell Media, controls 28.6 per cent of the TV viewing market. A slew of mergers and acquisitions in the recent years have paved the path for consolidation of press and cross-media ownership in television, telecoms, radio and cable sectors.

Paradoxically media concentration also appears to be a serious problem in Japan which promises to be the second largest economy in the world, after USA with one of the highest literacy rates in the world-- over 90 percent. Japan has a broad and diverse media marketplace 128 Newspapers – many with a morning and evening edition 305 Radio Channels 7108 TV Stations and 500 cable operators. Media life in Japan is focused around the TV where every person on an average watches not news but entertainment programs for three hours and a half hours a day. In contrast the time spent listening to radio is 20 min, reading newspaper is 21 min. and books-10 min.  All most all the Japanese newspapers depend on two agencies-- Kyodo News Service and Jiji Press for their news inputs. Apart from this the only source of news is informal gossip at the Press Clubs organized by various government departments. Top five Japanese newpapers Asahi Shimbun, Mainichi Shimbun, Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Sankei Shimbun and Yomiuri Shimbun accounts for half the total newspaper readership.  Each of them sells above 4-10 million copies – more than the combined circulation of even Times of India. Japan can also boast of Dentsu the largest advertising agency and the second largest advertising industry in the world. But then there is one drawback most of its media is concentrated in a few hands. For instance Yomiuri Shimbun group Honsha owned by a 82-year-old businessman, Tsuneo Watanabe control 42 media firms. Some of these firms held under third parties include 24 local television broadcasters and 18 local radio stations besides Japan’s largest newspaper. The owner of Yomiuri Shimbun, Watanabe is obviously supposed to be more powerful than any Minister in Japan can ever expect to be. Apart from this all the five national TV companies, including public NHK—have investment in a newspaper or radio network. Yomiuri Shimbun Newspaper owns Nippon TV. TV Asahi owns Asahi Shimbun Newspaper, TBS owns Mainichi Shimbun Newspaper, TV Tokyo owns Nippon Keizai Shimbun Newspaper and Fuji TV owns Sankei Shimbun Newspaper. Fuji Television is also actively developing new business opportunities in the Internet and mobile world. Apart from this the more than 500 cable operators in Japan have their own production and reach out to 15 million households. Many media companies are also exploring avenues of Twitter, Facebook and Myspace.

Likewise have you heard of a man called Silvio Berlusconi? He started off as a cruise boat lounge singer and small-time hustler. But now owns enough newspapers, television stations and radio stations   to own 95 percent of all the media seen, heard, or read in Italy. He not only controlled the information in Italy, but used it to become Prime Minister of Italy. Thanks to his grip on the media, Berlusconi ruled for three terms in a decade, despite being accused of tax fraud, false accounting, corruption, bribery, perjury, mafia collusion, aiding terrorist organization, and sex with minors at his infamous “Bunga Bunga” parties. That’s how crucial a media monopoly is to political power and legal immunity from prosecution. His vast media empire among others included three of Italy’s seven national television channels, two newspapers, the largest publishing house, the biggest advertising agency and numerous Internet ventures. Till he was Prime Minister he enjoyed absolute media control by virtue of controlling the state-owned broadcaster, Rai, which owns the three other national channels. Italy’s largest broadcaster Mediaset having 45 per cent of total Italian viewership and Rai together dominate Italy's TV market. In addition, his huge presence in advertising guarantees him considerable influence over commercial media that he does not directly own or control. Berlusconi remains one of Italy's richest and most influential men with a fortune of $9bn. His first business venture was a cable-television outfit – Telemilano which is now Italy's biggest media empire controlling three largest private TV stations. His huge Fininvest holding company now has Mediaset, Italy's largest publishing house Mondadori, daily newspaper Il Giornale, AC Milan football club and dozens of other companies under its umbrella.

The only person on planet Earth who can outshine Berlusconi both as a media mogul and as a kingmaker is Rupert Murdoch. Starting with a single newspaper in 1950s, it took a series of ruthless expansion and deal making for him to be crowned as the undisputed king of newspapers, films, and television in Australia, USA, UK, India and other parts of the world. Murdoch's News Corporation owns over 800 companies in over 50 countries with a net worth of over $5 billion. News International is the world's second-largest media conglomerate with all-embracing media Entertainment Empire after acquiring TV stations, movie studios, music recording and publishing labels, newspapers, magazines and book publishers in six continents of the world. In Britain, he is one of the four corporations that control 80% of the press. In Australia News Corporation or John Fairfax Holdings control 11 of the 12 major newspapers having 88% of the circulation. NewsCorp owns 8 of that 12 newspapers besides dominating the regional and suburban newspaper publishing industry, as well as owning a major slice of Foxtel. A man who never lets any hurdle come in his way—some 30 years ago when he dreamt of starting a new television network in the U.S., there was one obstacle-- he was a foreigner, so he decided to solve the problem and became an American. He was now free to expand his media empire throughout United States.

A media tycoon who believes in sharing the political power, Murdoch has consistently backed every winning British Prime Minister since 1979. Often accused of using his media holdings to advance his political agenda he was instrumental in editorially supporting the invasion of Iraq through all 175 of his newspapers forcing Prime Minister Tony Blair to declare the war in 2003. A man who is often seen advising Prime Ministers, he was known in political circles as "the 24th member of the Cabinet". Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s official spokesman stated “there is nothing unusual in the prime minister talking to Rupert Murdoch". Rupert Murdoch – the kingmaker has many prominent Republican politicians on his payroll. He was on the Board of Directors of Philip Morris, a major Bush donor. Murdoch owns 132 major newspapers (113 in Australia alone) including Wall Street Journal, New York Post, London Times and Australian besides some 25 magazines including TV Guide and Weekly Standard and HarperCollins books. His assets include Film companies & studios (20th Century Fox, Blue Sky Studios) TV and broadcasting (Star TV, Tata Sky, 20th Century Fox Television, Fox Broadcasting Company, Fox Television Studios and Shine Group), cable TV networks (Big Ten Network, FX Movie Channel and National Geographic Channel International) internet (MySpace, Photobucket, TheSimpsons.com) and many others. 

In India Star TV owns television channels, Internet offerings, radio, mobile entertainment and home video (11 cable distribution companies provide some 400 television channels through DTH and cable distribution platforms in India).