Media Ownership: The Thought Police

In a capitalist culture, with neo-liberal market ideals- why does it matter who owns the media?

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To answer this question in a simple world: Berlusconi.

He was a media tycoon that owned the countries largest magazine publisher- Mondadori, as well as Publitalia, the countries largest advertising company, as well as several local radio and television stations. Silvio Berlusconi was the Italian Prime Minister between January 1994 and March 2009, and when in power- he controlled 90% of the countries broadcast media in conjunction with his own companies and state owned outlets (Ragnedda, 2014 p.15). His role as Prime Minister, and head of the largest privately owned media group in the country, shows us the consequences of having one man monopolize the news media (Ragnedda, 2014 p.17). Berlusconi had absolutely no qualms about even pretending to put forth a fair and balanced agenda with the news- for example his private network provided more speaking time to the right (Durante & Knight, 2012, p.452). This clearly demonstrates that partisan control of the media leads to biased coverage.

So how did he manage this power? Well the media reporting on him was generally all in his favour. But he took advantage of the media to maintain power also. For example- studies have shown that Berlusconi’s manipulation of crime coverage in media, which in turn manipulates the public’s fear of crime, which in turn may be associated with voting behaviours. Examination of data shows that the publics perception of security ‘is not consistent with verified rates of crime….but appears more closely associated with intensity of crime coverage in the media’ which was controlled by Berlusconi (Ragnedda & Muschert 2011, p.47).

But the question is- why does this matter. And to answer that all we need do is examine the behaivour of Belsconi whilst he was in power- see clip below-

Unfortunately that clip is NOT a sketch from Saturday Night Live- but actually footage of the Prime Minister of Italy sexually harassing a pubic servant at work on the street.This illustrates the outrageous way he was able to operate. In a TV panel discussion he was asked by a young female student about issues surrounding unemployment and was told that she should ‘marry a rich man like [his son].’ (Paladino, 2014, p.201).  He did this without political consequence. Only when Italy faced recession due to the Global Financial Crisis was he removed from power.

Berlusconi is the best modern example of why we need to reign in neo-liberal market ideals when it comes to media. (We see the use of media moguls being above the law here also- Case in point, the Packers Casinos being outside the designated lock-out law zones despite having high rates of alcohol related violence.) But can you imagine if Rupert Murdoch was the Prime Minister?

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Durante, R, & Knight, B 2012, ‘Partisan Control, Media Bias, and Viewer Responses: Evidence From Berlusconi’s Italy’, Journal of the European Economic Association, vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 451-481.

Paladino, M 2014, ‘Why did Italians protest against Berlusconi’s sexist behaviour? The role of sexist beliefs and emotional reactions in explaining women and men’s pathways to protest’, British Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 53, no. 2, pp. 201-216.

Ragnedda, M 2014, ‘Censorship and media ownership in Italy in the Era of Berlusconi’, Global Media Journal: Mediterranean Edition, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 13-26.

Ragnedda, M, & Muschert, GW 2011, ‘The Political use of Fear and News Reporting in Italy: The Case of Berlusconi’s Media Control’, Journal of Communications Research, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 43-54.




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