The Conglomerate Threat to Critical Journalism

18 July 2005
Article
 
Walden Bello

The Conglomerate Threat to Critical Journalism
Walden Bello
Speech delivered at Asia Press Forum, Seoul, 17 September 2001

The region is today experiencing a number of conflicts between the press and the authorities. I think it is important to be discriminating here and not regard all situations as the same. Here in Korea, you apparently have a complex situation where issues other than press freedom are involved. (1)

In the case of Thailand, the issue is the threat posed by the combination of the extensive interests of Prime Minister Thaksin's family in the private media and his authority over the state-run media. So far it seems the threat is more potential than real.

In Malaysia and Singapore, the restrictions on press freedom by authoritarian states are very real and worrisome, although this mainly assumes the form of "self-censorship" by media practitioners.

But whatever their differences, it is important to closely monitor the situation in all these countries and others, so that the freedom of the press is not compromised in some countries and is expanded in others.

What I would like to focus on in this talk is the threat to the integrity of journalism in the region posed by the increasing concentration of the production and delivery of information and opinion and entertainment production in the hands of a limited number of global conglomerates. This threat, I would contend, is as dangerous-if not more so-than that posed by government.

Robert McChesney, a leading specialist on the media, wrote recently "in few industries has the level of concentration been as stunning as the media".(2) In a very short period, the global media has come to be dominated by seven multinational corporations: Disney, AOL-Time Warner, Sony, News Corporation, Viacom, Vivendi, and Bertelsmann. All these conglomerates are western-controlled, four of them being American, if we count Rupert Murdoch, who is now a card-carrying US citizen and is headquartered in the US, as an American.

Jurassic Park

The swift evolution of the global media into institutions of Jurassic size responded to a revolutionary global situation in the 1990's marked by the conjunction of lightning advances in information and telecommunications technology, tremendous amounts of capital seeking profitable investment, and the globalization of markets promoted by comprehensive economic liberalization pushed by such institutions as the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization. As in other industries, the frenzied snapping up of enterprises and the mergers have led to over-investment and overcapacity, so that loss of competition has gone hand-in-hand with decreased profitability. Unlike in other sectors, however, the impact of concentration goes beyond the economic to the cultural, and this will be with us for some time to come in the form of a radical narrowing of horizons, perspectives, and approaches in journalism.

Much of this process of concentration has been good old horizontal integration. Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation has been called the "most aggressive global trailblazer...". (3) With over 130 newspapers, including the venerable London Times and less than venerable Fleet Street types, News Corporation is the world's largest news publisher. It owns the right-wing Fox Broadcasting television network in the United States; Twentieth Century Fox Corporation, a leading producer of movies and television shows; HarperCollins Publishing Company, one of the US's biggest book publishers; International Family Entertainment, a US cable television company; El Canal Fox, a Latin American cable TV network; and 22 US television stations.

Here in Asia, News Corporation recently moved into Japan, where it set up Japan Sky Broadcasting Company, a joint venture with a Japanese Bank. Star Television, a satellite TV network, is the region's most popular satellite service, reaching out to over 42 million homes in several countries, including India, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Hong Kong, Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Kuwait. In Thailand alone, an estimated 142,000 households are tuned into Star. (4)

China is billed as News Corporation's frontier, yet via Phoenix TV, a Hong Kong-listed firm with access to southern China, it already reaches an estimated 45 million households in that country. There are reports that News Corporation is about to conclude a deal with the Chinese government that would give it even greater access in Guangdong Province in return for carrying the official China Central Television (CCTV) in the United States. (5)

Going head-to-head for the China market is the AOL Time Warner hyper-conglomerate. If News Corporation is a classic case of horizontal integration, AOL Time Warner is a case of vertical integration, which is said to be the key to survival in the clash of titans that will mark the Jurassic Age ahead. A product of a $103 billion deal just a few months ago, AOL Time Warner brought together the world's largest Online service provider, with its 30 million subscribers, and the world's largest "infotainment" conglomerate.

The AOL Time Warner group also includes Time, Inc., the US' largest magazine publisher whose flagship publication is Time, which is brought out in scores of regional and national editions and in dozens of languages. It controls Warner Music Group, the US's no. 1 music company; Warner Brothers, a leading producer and distributor of movies; Time Warner Cable; HBO, the US's no. 1 pay-TV service; the cable TV services TBS and TNT; Book-of-the-Month Club, the US's no. 1 book club; and, last but not least, Mad Magazine.

Already AOL Time Warner influences the lives of many of us through CNN, which appears to have access to almost every hotel and motel room in the world, though in the US, this "liberal" network is getting a good run for its money from the anti-liberal Fox Broadcasting belonging to Murdoch, forcing its programming to move rightward.

A key global conglomerate with a significant presence in Asia is Dow Jones and Company Inc, whose two publications based out of Hong Kong, the Asian Wall Street Journal and the Far Eastern Economic Review, reach professional, business, academic, and government circles throughout the region. The Far Eastern Economic Review, which has been in a process of constant shakeup since it was acquired by Dow Jones a couple of years ago, is often cited as an example of how an outstanding independent newspaper can degenerate into mediocrity under the control of a media oligopoly determined to impose narrow content and style standards and conservative pro-market philosophy via proconsuls with little knowledge of the region-in this case, from New York.

Dow Jones' crown jewel is, of course, the Wall Street Journal, the no. 2 daily newspaper in the United States. Lesser gems include Barron's, a weekly magazine of investment news and opinion; Dow Jones Markets Service, an online business and financial news service; Asian Business News, a Singapore-based news television network, and its counterpart in Europe, the London-based European Business News.

The reach of these conglomerates must not be measured only by the number of direct subscribers to their various publications and media. In each of our countries, their power to shape opinion is amplified via the appearance of news articles, radio broadcasts, and TV segments obtained from them via a variety of arrangements with local media, including those in the vernacular.

Concentration of power and influence by the western media conglomerates has been accompanied by four notable trends in reporting and opinion making:

  • homogenization of views underneath surface pluralism;
  • commodification of news and views;
  • diffusion of an anti-analytical methodology of reporting and analysis that fails to draw out the relationships among phenomena or developments; and
  • pervasiveness of a paradigm that filters out inconvenient data and filters in only those that fits its underlying assumptions.

Homogenization of Views

Contrary to the idea that there is a plurality of views in the western press, there is, in fact, a very narrow range of perspectives. Indeed, editorial writing and reporting has been marked by a homogenization of views. Nowhere is this more evident than in the way that the western press has unanimously glorified globalization. In the go-go nineties, it was rare to see views critical of globalization given attention in the established media. Such views were considered outside the pale, even though for years, the UNDP had been chronicling the very real downside of globalization. Such statistics on rising inequality and poverty were facts but not realities. In 1995, 1996, 1997, indeed even after the Asian financial crisis, one would have been hardpressed to find a dissenting note on the rosy future offered by corporate-driven globalization in the Asian Wall Street Journal, Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, Business Week, Time, and CNBC.

It was only after the collapse of the Seattle Ministerial brought about by the growing global political movement against corporate-driven globalization that things changed. People that had formerly been dismissed as Luddites were now grudgingly portrayed as having a point. Truths that were at least a decade old were finally acknowledged, and here let me take as an example, Business Week of the AOL Time Warner Group in its issue of November 6, 2000:

"The downside of global capitalism is the disruption of whole societies, from financial meltdowns to practices by multinationals that would never be tolerated in the West. Industrialized countries have enacted all sorts of worker, consumer, and environmental safeguards since the turn of the century, and civil rights have a strong tradition. But the global economy is still in the robber-baron age...If global capitalism's flaws aren't addressed, the backlash could grow more severe".(6)

Why the change? It was not because of the disinterested perspective of looking for the truth and reporting it that the western press is so fond of citing as its guide. No, it took the power of the people in the streets of Seattle and Washington and Chiang Mai and Genoa to transform facts into realities for the conglomerate press.

Commodification

Homogenization is related to another development that was especially marked in the business press in the period leading up to the Asian financial crisis: the commodification of news reporting and opinion making-that is, the growing tendency to treat information primarily as something to be marketed.

The Asian prosperity in the late eighties and early nineties was what attracted the big players from the West into the region. Among the more momentous deals was the purchase of the Far Eastern Economic Review by Dow Jones, of Asiaweek by Time Warner, and of Star Television in Hong Kong by Rupert Murdoch. CNN, another Time Warner subsidiary also moved in, with much of their programming devoted to business news.

These news agents became critical interpreters of the news in Asia to investors located all over the world and served as a vital supplement to the electronic linkages that made real-time transactions possible among the key stock exchanges of Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Osaka, New York, London, and Frankfurt a reality.

For the most part, these publications and media, whether they were independent or part of the big chains, highlighted the boom, glorified the high growth rates, and reported uncritically on so-called success stories, mainly because their own success as publications was tied to the perpetuation of the psychology of boom. The production of news and opinion came to be dominated less by the communication of truth but by the marketability of what was reported. When it came to business and economic news and analysis, negative news was simply not marketable. Not surprisingly, a number of writers doing critical stories on questionable business practices, alarming developments, or failed enterprises complained that they could not place their stories, or that their editors told them to accentuate the positive.

Parachute journalism, a phrase applied to writers who flew in, became instant on the Vietnam War or the Philippines under Marcos, then left after filing their big stories, became a practice as well in the 1990's, with Fortune, Business Week, Newsweek, and Time setting the pace. It was, for instance, a hotshot reporter with the Newsweek airborne brigade who, more than everybody else, sanctified the Philippines' status as Asia's newest tiger during the Subic APEC Summit of November 1996-a status that lasted less than eight months, until the collapse of the peso in July 1997.

Many of these business publications, in turn, developed an unwholesome reliance on a character-type that proliferated in the region in the early 1990's, the investment adviser or strategies-an "expert" connected with the research arms of banks, investment houses, brokerage houses, mutual funds, and hedge funds. In many instances, noted Philip Bowring, former editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review, economic journalism degenerated into just stringing along quotes from different investment authorities. (7)

Many of these people were expats, some of them refugees from the collapse of the stock markets in New York and London in the late 1980's. Some of them were Generation X or pre-Generation X types who had been too young to participate in the junk bond frenzy in Wall Street in the Reagan years but discovered similar highs in the East. Many of them were as young as Nick Leeson, the 26-year-old broker who brought down the venerable Barings Brothers. But to the reporters in the business press, their advice on going underweight or overweight in certain countries or taking short or long positions in dollars or moving into equities and out of bonds or vice versa were dispensed to readers as gospel truth. This is not to say that investment advisers and business writers dispensed uniformly optimistic advice to investors playing the region. It did mean, however, that they could not afford to paint too pessimistic a picture of any country in the region since after all their bread and butter came from bringing global capital into Asia.

But it was not just investment advisers that the press relied on to create a never-never land that helped to bring in more and more capital. There was also the western academic establishment. For it was, after all, not Asians but mainly economists and political scientists in the West who formulated the interrelated propositions that an economic miracle had come about in Asia, that high growth was likely to mark the region in the foreseeable future, and that Asia would be the engine of the world economy far into the 21st century. Indeed, a whole cottage industry to assist Western businessmen to deal with those formidable Asians was spawned a partnership of New York and London publishers, business reporters and analysts, and political scientists and economists. And one must not leave out the World Bank, whose publication The East Asian Miracle, which came out in 1993, became a kind of bible in the academic world, the corporate world, and the press, a book that revealed the truth about the origins and dynamics of the economies that would serve as the engine of the world economy in the 21st century.

In short, the conglomerate press was part of a supporting cast of important actors behind the great Asian boom whose uncritical acts led to the great Asian bust. The 10-year rush into Asia of global speculative capital cannot be disentangled from this Greek chorus singing its siren song of "Asian exceptionalism", painting a picture of Asia as the region of permanent prosperity.

Let me briefly review where we are before proceeding: The conglomerate press can be as homogeneous and uncritical as the totalitarian press, and in its consequences, equally dangerous. Pluralism is a convenient figleaf for a homogeneity of views that is just as negative and disastrous in its impact, as the financial crisis and its aftermath was to show. Homogeneity was, in the period leading up to the Asian financial crisis, a homogeneity of feel-good news and views on the business and economic front. News reporting and opinion-making increasingly became commodified, and there was simply no market for any news except that that would support the belief that Asia was a never-ending bonanza.

Abstracted Empiricism

I would now like to go to my third point, which is methodological: western reporting and analysis is marked by a profoundly anti-analytical empiricism that misses the essential relationships among phenomena and gives us a profoundly distorted view of certain developments. Let me call this, to use a phrase from the great American sociologist C. Wright Mills, "abstracted empiricism".(8) I am tempted to use the established media's reporting and analysis of the recent events in the United States as an example, but this massive tragedy is too raw at this point. I would like to use as an example instead reporting on Mexico and the drug trade as an example of the pernicious effects of this sort of reporting.

Mexico, like Colombia, has become synonymous with drugs, and the western media, for the most part, attribute this to a culture of corruption and poverty. Now and then, there is reference to the fact that it is US demand that is fueling Mexico's drug trade, which helps keep things in perspective. But hardly is the connection made between the pervasiveness of the drug trade and the globalization and liberalization of the Mexican economy via structural adjustment programs imposed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund over the last 20 years.

Mexico saw no economic growth between 1982 and 1988, in contrast to an annual GDP growth rate of 7 per cent in the 1970's. This lost decade was a direct consequence of the IMF-World Bank program of structural adjustment that was imposed on the country after the onset of the Third World debt crisis. A combination of deflationary fiscal and monetary policies cum radical liberalization of trade, deregulation of the domestic economy, and privatization of state enterprises created a devastating social situation. Real wages plunged by over 40 per cent between 1982 and 1988, the percentage of unemployed and underemployed rose to around 40 per cent, and half the population plunged below the poverty line.

Much of the population was still down and out, when the country was hit by a second depth charge triggered by the IMF-imposed radical financial liberalization that tied Mexico to volatile global financial markets in the late eighties and early nineties. The Mexican financial meltdown, brought about the massive flight of speculative capital that had come in to take advantage of the country's high-yield Treasury bonds and other financial instruments, resulted in the economy contracting by over six per cent, over one million people thrown out of work, hundreds of enterprises plunged into bankruptcy, inflation at over 50 per cent, and a drop in real income by over 10 per cent. Mexico's experience of structural adjustment and financial liberalization, with two massive contractions within 15 years, was the economic equivalent of the Dresden blitz.

Essentially, it left very few profitable large-scale economic activities in the country. It was in the depressed eighties and early nineties that the drug economy took off to become what is now by far the most profitable economic activity in the country. The drug economy, in short, was an offspring of the IMF-World Bank programs that were imposed as a straitjacket on the Mexican economy. But you would not be able to arrive at such an analysis reading the New York Times or Time or the Washington Post. Or watching CNN. For the most part, these media did not transcend their role of dispensing factoids instead of critical analysis.

This is not to say that there were no media in the West that made the links. There were a few that did, and they were not affiliates of the big conglomerates: the Guardian in Britain, the Nation in New York, and Le Monde and Le Monde Diplomatique in France.

Problematic Paradigm

Homogenization, commodification, and abstracted empiricism are part of a larger problem, and that is a non-self-reflective press that is imprisoned in a framework that does not so much interpret reality but organizes it in ways favorable to its underlying interests. I am not talking about a conspiracy to falsify reality. I am talking about the conceptual and ethical assumptions that form the pillars of what is now commonly called, following Thomas Kuhn, a "paradigm".(9) I am talking about an ideological process that "filters in" some aspects of reality and "filters out" others, thus unconsciously distorting the perception, reporting, and analysis of the social world.

In my view, there are three very influential assumptions that guide or structure reporting and opinion-making in the dominant western media in the areas of politics and economics:

  • First, the supremacy of the market is the best principle around which to organize economic life.
  • Second, liberal democracy is the best principle around which to organize political life.
  • Third, it is in the West and particularly in the United States that this combination has achieved its highest evolutionary form.

Now for those of you who have followed the discussions of political theory since the end of the Cold War, these three assumptions are strikingly similar to the key assertions of Francis Fukuyama. According to this American intellectual, history has ended, and liberal democratic societies based on market economics are the end-point of social and political evolution. (10)

Now, many of the writers in the western media have parodied Fukuyama, a few out of genuine disagreement, but most because they have misunderstood his message, conveyed as it was in oftentimes Hegelian obscurity. However, the subtext of the news reports and editorial opinions that spew forth daily in the western media-be it the Financial Times, CNN, Fox Broadcasting, CNBC, the New York Times, or the Wall Street Journal-continually reveal that they share Fukuyama's premise: that social evolution has reached its high point in the West, particularly in the United States, and there economics and politics are no longer about bringing about fundamental reform but of making relatively improvements to essentially perfect institutions. They continually reveal that despite the occasional bow to "diversity", our economic and political arrangements in Asia and the South are measured by the degree to which they measure up to the western or American yardstick.

Of course, there are variations in the ways these assumptions are communicated. There is the hard conservative version, one which delivers the message with a mixture of missionary zeal and arrogance. Charles Krauthammer, the right-wing pundit of the Washington Post, gives us a classic expression of this in a Time essay entitled "America Rules: Thank God": "Individual rights, government by consent, protection from arbitrary power, the free exchange of goods and ideas. We inherited them. We codified them. And now we propagate them...The world could do worse than be dominated by a country so committed to these ideas that it cannot help trying to foist them on everyone else".(11)

Liberals tend to be more oblique or indirect, but in their moments of candor about the assumptions they employ in their writing, they reveal their sharing many of the assumptions and values of their conservative counterparts. In a Financial Times column with the heading "America Rules OK", the British writer Martin Wolf says that "the world should be grateful for the hegemony of the United States throughout the 20th century". Why? Because the United States is "the Enlightenment's best product, characterized by the division of church from state, by republican institutions, by the separation of powers and by the rule of law. It is a country dedicated to the democratic proposition that who you are depends not on inherited status but on achievement".

Wolf admits that a world dominated by the US has its imperfections, but "who can doubt that a world with an increasing number of democracies and stronger global institutions, with a dynamic market economy and continued technological advance is the only possible basis for human advance?"(12) Here we are clearly in the realm of faith and ideology.

Any attempt at ideological deconstruction of the neoliberal paradigm that imprisons most of the western press would not be complete without considering the high priest of US-led globalization, the New York Times' Thomas Friedman. With Friedman, the arrogance of the underlying paradigm emerges in full glory, as the following passage reveals: "If 100 years ago someone told you that by the end of the century, the defining feature of world affairs would be "globalization"...and that you had to design a country best suited to compete in such a world, in many respects you would have designed today's America "(13)

Friedman asserts that "the US has the world's most diverse and efficient capital markets, which reward, and even celebrate, risk taking. Anyone with an invention and a garage can hope to raise millions overnight. It has a multicultural population that speaks the language of the Internet, a constantly renewing flow of immigrants, a transparent legal and regulatory environment, and a flexible federal political system. It has a job market that enables workers to move easily from one industrial zone to another, and a corporate sector that has, unlike Europe's and Japan's, already gone through the downsizing and restructuring needed for global competitiveness. It has multiple economies, with a single currency, on a single continent that looks to both the Pacific and the Atlantic".

"Globalization", Friedman concludes triumphantly, "is us". I will refrain from further commentary.

Unreflective Ideology

Now some people say that for all their faults, Krauthammer, Wolf, and Friedman, should be given credit for being candid about their biases. Yes, they are frank, but this does not get them brownie points. For the candor is not accompanied by a reflexive attitude, by a critical appreciation of one's paradigm that is a sine qua non of critical journalism.

Ideological writing, let me make clear, is not falsification. Ideology both reflects and inverts reality. Ideology enables one to mercilessly criticize the Communist Party of China from a moral high ground. But when unreflective, ideology makes the subject blind to the limitations or flaws of the yardstick that he or she uses to judge political systems in the South-in the case, of Krauthammer and company, the US political system. It does not allow the writer and thus his or her audience to appreciate the fact that the US electoral system is systematically rendered undemocratic in its outcomes by the way wealth intervenes at every critical juncture in the process of choosing representatives. It does not allow people to understand that given the massive costs of running for office, political competition is effectively limited to those with wealth or are backed by moneyed interests. The dictatorship of wealth may not be as obvious or direct as a political dictatorship, but it is very real in its processes and consequences.

Nothing symbolizes better the way corporate wealth and constitutional rules meant to restrain the majority determine electoral outcomes in the US better than the fact that President George W. Bush, the man backed by massive corporate money, became president of the US, despite the fact that he lost the popular vote and, according to some studies, the electoral college vote as well. Indeed, so corrupted is the US system by corporate money that many Americans are convinced that it should be designated a "plutocracy". As William Pfaff, one of those few critical voices carried in the conglomerate press notes, "nothing on the scale of the American system of political expenditure and influence exists anywhere".(14) This deep sense of unease was reflected in the fact that it was the desire for a reform of a system of campaign financing prevented by corporate money that propelled the candidacy of Senator John McCain, who made a strong run for the Republican nomination in the spring of 2000.

The ideological biases of the western press so distort reality that it would be difficult to glean from their reporting that while seemingly stable, the US is actually in an advanced state of political crisis.

The deeply corrupting role of corporate money in political life is not the only burning issue. There are others, but they are largely kept from the public focus by the dominant paradigm. There are also the urban crisis, a class gulf exacerbated by free trade and capital mobility, the worst distribution of income among the industrial countries, a racial crisis masking as a law-and-order problem, the cultural war between fundamentalists and liberals, and the increasing power of the military.

The western press has been so doctrinally confident in the superiority of the American system, in its belief in civilian supremacy in Washington that it has failed to notice and expose the fact that, as one independent commentator puts it, the "military is already the most powerful institution in American government, in practice largely unaccountable to the executive branch. Now the armed forces are setting the limits of American foreign policy...The United States is not yet 18th century Prussia, when the military owned the state, but the threat is more serious than most Americans realize".(15)

It has been through other means, not through reading the establishment media, that a world that had long been told about the superiority of the Washington system of political rule has had to learn the flaws of a system designed to enhance private power and limit public power, to put infinite obstacles in the way of public power achieving socially progressive ends, to put the ends of realpolitik ahead of democracy in domestic and foreign policy. The following comments of Daniel Lazare in his influential book The Frozen Republic are widely shared:

"Government in America doesn't work because it's not supposed to work. In their infinite wisdom, the Founders created a deliberately unresponsive system in order to narrow the governmental options and force us to seek alternative routes. Politics were dangerous; therefore, politics had to be limited and constrained. But America cannot expect to survive much longer with a government that is inefficient and none too democratic in design. It is impossible to forge ahead in the late twentieth century using governmental machinery dating from the late eighteenth. Urban conditions can only worsen, race relations can only grow more poisonous, while the middle class can only grow alienated and embittered".(16)

Ideology and the "New Economy"

The same sort of ideological blindness, this time concerning the role of unregulated capital markets, prevented their audience from coming to grips how serious the deflation really is. A recent article in Business Week asks why "America is in serious denial" of the deep-seated structural flaws that have led the current very fast downspin of the economy. (17) The question we ask is why it took Business Week and other established media so long to recognize the depths of the problem? One may perhaps understand the media's failing to call the Asian crisis. But it is very difficult to understand why the press failed to recognize the same problems in the US after the Asian crisis: over-investment in manufacturing, creating "excessive global supplies of almost everything", as economist A. Gary Shilling put it, (18) leading to a profit crunch in industry, resulting in a wave of mega-mergers to counter the worrisome decline in profitability and to capital being shifted to speculative activity, leading to the Internet, high-technology bubble that finally burst earlier this year, wiping out of $4.3 trillion in investor wealth.(19)

The severe stresses were very visible, and many independent commentators pointed to it, but, in herd-like fashion, the established press was obsessed from 1999 to 2001 with the question of whether or not America had evolved a "A New Economy" under the wise guidance of Alan Greenspan. There was a debate, undoubtedly, but the debate was over whether or not the economy had now transcended the old business cycle or was still subject to it, not over whether severe structural stresses were building up that could lead to a the economic implosion that is now in progress. This was not a question of the lack of indicators, but a blindness to the deeper meaning of these indicators. And from where did this blindness spring? I would contend from the deep-seated belief in the superiority of an economic system driven by barely regulated markets, whose infinite wisdom would bring about the optimum allocation of capital and the best of all possible worlds, in contrast to over-regulated Europe and crony capitalist Asia.

Deconstruction and Reconstruction

Let me conclude by saying that even as authoritarian controls over the press continue to be a threat to a free press in Asia, and even as we fight to lift outright censorship or self-censorship in places such as China, Malaysia, and Singapore, we must not lose sight of the fact that the greater threat to the integrity of the press and media is the centralization and concentration of the global media in the hands of a small number of western corporate oligopolies. This trends toward monopolization carries with it the very real dangers of the imposition of the hegemony an ideology whose hallmarks are a ideological uniformity beneath a surface pluralism, commodification of information production and delivery, an underlying paradigm suffused with values filtering out uncongenial truths-uncongenial that is, to the eternal truths of the superiority of free markets and western-style liberal democracies-and a methodology of abstracted empiricism.

What this means is that the practice of responsible journalism, in Asia and elsewhere, has become one of deconstruction and reconstruction. The reporter or the opinion writer must, on the one hand, deconstruct the ideological and methodological filters that subtly reshape the realities that are presented to people by the dominant media. Then, we must place events, both local and international, in their very real relationship to the structures and dynamics of a process of globalization that is not neutral but serve the interests of certain groups.

Reading, writing, or presenting the realities of our societies and those of the world is an effort that must engage to the full our critical faculties-one that unites writer and reader, viewer and broadcaster in a common enterprise of education, discovery, and liberating action. To make a difference in this age of globalization dominated by mechanisms of ideological control far stronger than the state-controlled media of totalitarian states of the past and present, journalism must cease being a dispenser of factoids and once again become an instrument of liberation by being reflexive, critical, and a partisan of the truth. This is what it means to fight for freedom of the press and freedom of thought in our time.

Notes

  1. "Clouds form over Sunshine Policy", article in Economist reproduced in South China Morning Post, Sept. 2, 2001.
  2. Robert McChesney, "Global Media, Neoliberalism, and Imperialism", Monthly Review, Vol. 52, No. 10 (March 2001), p. 4.
  3. Ibid., p. 5.
  4. Economist Intelligence Unit, cited in Meheroo Jussawalla, "Media Mergers Catching on in Southeast Asia", Media Asia, Vol. 23, No. 4, 1996, p. 185.
  5. "AOL Time Warner, News Corp. Seen Making Strides in China", Reuters, Sept., 6, 2001.
  6. "Global Capitalism: Can it be Made to Work Better?", Business Week, Nov. 6, 2000.
  7. Comments as a seminar on "Improving the Flow of Information in a Time of Crisis: the Challenge to the Southeast Asian Media", Subic, Philippines, Oct. 29-31, 1998.
  8. C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination (Hammondworth: Penguin, 1970).
  9. See Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970).
  10. See Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Free Press, 1991).
  11. Charles Krauthammer, "America Rules: Thank God", Time, August 4, 1997.
  12. Martin Wolf, "America Rules OK", Financial Times, Sept. 16, 1999.
  13. Thomas Friedman, New York Times, Feb. 1997.
  14. William Pfaff, "Money Politics is Winning the American Election", International Herald Tribune, March 11-12, 2000, p. 8.
  15. William Pfaff, "The Pentagon, not Congress or the President, Calls the Shots", International Herald Tribune, August 6, 2001.
  16. Daniel Lazare, The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution is Paralyzing Democracy (New York: Harcourt Brace and Co., 1996), p. 5.
  17. Pete Engardio, "Is that Asia in America's Mirror?, Business Week, Sept. 7, 2001.
  18. Gary Shilling, Deflation (Short Hills, NJ: Lakeview Publishing Co., 1998), p. 177.
  19. "When the Wealth is Blown Away", Business Week, March 26, 2001, p. 33.