Since the News of the World scandal broke in July, the world is awakening to the uncertainty of what’s safe to watch and what’s true in the news. Boycotters are rallying against the clutches of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, but are struggling to define exactly which media to avoid in an increasingly conglomerated mediascape. For those not wanting to leave matters in the hands of God (or anyone else), it seems a question of how to act: if we can’t vote him off, then what can we do? And so, an experiment: Can reporter Vanessa Ellingham get through a whole day free of Rupert Murdoch’s grip
Since the downfall of News of the World, a series of movements boycotting Murdoch have cropped up online. Web browsers Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome have launched free web applications to warn users or even block sites owned by Murdoch.
The general public have become more concerned about how profit-driven media gather their stories, says Dr Wayne Hope, media communications professor at AUT University.
“What a lot of people didn’t realise, but what is now public knowledge, is that some newspapers like the News of the World, they’re not journalists at all. They’re professional privacy invaders.”
“[It is as if] we’re going to hire a detective who’s an expert in IT, and we’re going to hack somebody’s cell phone and then it’ll make the headlines.”
Hope says he believes the revelations mean the public will learn more about media ownership and change what they support, says Hope.
“Before it was specialist academics who were concerned at the media ownership, but now the fallout of media ownership is there for all to see,” he says.
“The public can now put pressure on government, especially those governments whose policies are all too good for the media mogul.”
Leading the boycott charge is political blogger Chris Coltrane in London, who is preparing to launch a full-scale campaign online with website BoycottMurdoch.com.
Coltrane says going completely cold turkey on Murdoch would be “tremendously” difficult for the general public.
“It seems almost impossible just to memorise everything he owns,” he says.
Coltrane has compiled an online list of the international news media owned by Murdoch, his family, and his media conglomerate News Corporation, in attempt to help his readers avoid the tycoon’s media.
Despite listing 176 websites owned by Murdoch as we went to, Coltrane asks his readers to continue adding to the list.
“We also don’t have the domains for every movie and TV show that he’s released… I’m also sure there are more Australian newspaper domains, especially local papers. And the Australian TV section has barely even been started,” he said on his blog site.
A monumental task indeed.
Is New Zealand a safe haven?
Hope says that while only a small part of New Zealand media is owned by Murdoch, “New Zealand does have a problem of concentrated media ownership.”
Most of our daily newspapers, including The Dominion Post and The Press, are owned by one company, Fairfax.
“If [most of] the news dailies are owned by one media conglomerate, then we have a very narrow range of opinions, and that’s not good for democracy,” says Hope.
What’s more, these papers were owned by News Corporation’s Independent Newspapers Limited (INL) until they were sold to Fairfax in 2003.
“Before that, it would be pretty hard to avoid News Corp., but now News Corp., in New Zealand anyway, just mainly involves pay TV,” says Hope.
News Corporation has a majority stake in Sky Network Television.
But is that really it? I set out with Coltrane’s list in hand to see if I could last a day in Auckland, New Zealand, without anything touched by Murdoch, his family, or his companies.
7.05am: Stuff.co.nz is not owned by Murdoch, but its news largely comes from the Fairfax papers once owned by INL. Usually I’d read my daily news there but today I opt for NZHerald.co.nz, just to play it safe.
7.27am: There’s no Sky TV in my flat, so I assume I’m safe to enter the lounge. But when I wander past my flatmate watching the morning news on TV3, they’re blaring a broadcast bought straight from Sky News. I put my hands over my ears and run for the shower.
5.45pm: I’ve made it through all my classes Murdoch-free, but now I need to use the internet. I’ve got my MurdockAlert app switched on, so I should be fine.
6.02pm: Do a quick scan of the NZ Film Festival, trying to find something artsy enough that it couldn’t possibly be owned by a mainstream media mogul. Cannes Film Festival 2011 Palm D’Or winner The Tree of Life, which has drawn controversy for its deliberately non-conventional narrative technique, seems like a safe bet. Not so – popular film ratings site Rotten Tomatoes tells me the film is actually distributed by Fox Searchlight, a division of Murdoch-owned Fox Film Entertainment.
6.30pm: Give up on indie films and continue with my story research. A friend joins the hunt for more media I need to avoid, and emails me to say she’s snapped me because, as it turns out, Rotten Tomatoes is owned by Murdoch, too.
7.32pm: Friend flicks me another email suggesting I find counsel in Beliefnet.com, a religious website also owned by Murdoch. I am not amused.
7.50pm: Decide the internet’s too risky – the MurdochAlert application hasn’t saved me from Rotten Tomatoes. TV is a write-off after this morning’s incident; I think I need something really wholesome to read. JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is the oldest, fattest book I can find in the house. I’ve avoided it all my life but it might be my only option now. I turn to page one, and there it is: “published by HarperCollins”, owned, of course, by Murdoch’s News Corporation.
With media increasingly globalised and Murdoch’s fingers so deep in so many pies, even here at the bottom of the world it took a deliberate effort (and a lonely, largely newsless day) to escape the mogul’s hands. Even with a comprehensive well-informed avoidance list, I was still caught out more than once.
Perhaps nowhere is completely safe. But with the extent of Murdoch’s reach more out in the open than ever before, it seems change is in the air.