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Sparks fly when the media ownership debate brings together leading media experts to explore these issues. Legendary media critic Robert McChesney gets the ball rolling with a trenchant critique of corporate convergence. Ben Compaine says hes got it all wrong. As the debate deepens the temperature rises - its an enjoyable ding-dong. Taking in case studies from Korea and Japan, Italy and Hungary, Pakistan and Broadway, we put their arguments to the test.
Australia is often cited as an exemplar of the failure of media policy to guarantee the quality and independence of broadcasting. But in its development of arguments about freedom of communication, this outpost of Rupert Murdochs media empire offers a surprising lesson in the significance of local experience in promoting a culture of informed citizenship.
The combative debate on media ownership has highlighted the importance both of new global megacorporations and of the multiplicity of the commercial landscape. But, concludes openDemocracys media co-editor, the combination of money and power in sustaining media oligopoly and monopoly continues to pose serious questions about the state of democracy.
If Compaine needed any justification for labelling McChesney extremist, this argument is it.
Benjamin Compaine concedes that most participants in openDemocracys media ownership debate sympathised with Robert McChesney, but draws from its global perspective support for his claim that pluralism and diversity are compatible with a market-based system.
The renowned critic sees in the inadequacies of US coverage of Enron, the 2000 election, and the war on terrorism ample evidence of his argument that the dominant media system fails democracy.
The state of Italian television, and Berlusconi's role in it, is less one-sided than Mastrolonardo suggests. By helping to challenge state monopoly in the past, and responding to changing audience preferences, Berlusconi has not just used his media influence for political ends. The variegated Italian television landscape may lack for quality, but it cannot override peoples democratic choices.
Silvio Berlusconi already controls three of the four main private TV channels in Italy, but he is intent also on using patronage to dominate Rai, the public sector network. When the prime minister of a country and its most powerful media magnate are the same person, how healthy can its democracy be?
David Elstein, formerly one of Rupert Murdochs senior executives and founder of the UKs Channel 5, details the trials and tribulations of global medias Mr Bigs, and challenges the conventional view of their unchecked media power.
A perspective from Latin America adds a refreshingly different perspective to the debate on media ownership. Giantism (and duopoly) increasingly rule the continent, but among the explosion of content there are spaces of diversity and seriousness.
In Japan, the near-fifty year incumbency of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, and the best efforts of Rupert Murdoch, have not yet managed to destroy the conception of public service as a deliverer of honest and comprehensive news. But political pressure and media rivalries make the space for serious, critical, independent journalism a constrained one.
The spread of corporate power in the media is a serious threat to quality, independent journalism. But a global perspective is a healthy counter-balance to pessimism: as Korea illustrates, progress in taking on unwarranted media power is possible.
The information that people receive through the media, and the ideas and arguments they can access, help to shape their decisions as citizens as well as consumers. Thus, discussion about the evidence and implications of the pattern of media ownership is ultimately about the character of a democratic society itself.
New Yorks theatre district is the classic American melting pot. The unique Broadway distillation of Jewish, black and gay influences proved its spiritual mettle in the wake of 9/11. But can its combination of quality experience, commercial toughness and quasi-religious optimism resist the longer-term threat from bland, franchised megamusicals?
It is in relation to media policy that the left shows its true anti-democratic credentials. It precisely doesn't want freedom of speech.
A small, post-communist, market-oriented central European state is in its way one of the best viewing-points from which to judge the argument about global media trends. In Hungary there is an explosion of commercial broadcasting, a beleaguered but surviving public realm, and diversity in the newspaper sector. This is not a monolith, but is it freedom?
Cutting back ownership rules makes eminent commercial sense but bodes ill for quality news journalism.
Both McChesneys and Compaines views of media ownership are incomplete and reductive. The complex relationships between owners and publics, and the space for anti-conformism even within popular culture, require a flexible understanding that avoids the pitfalls either of monolithism or complacency.
The new media economy has not extinguished competition. Globalisation and diversity can and do co-exist.
Robert McChesneys criticism of the media ownership system depends on a form of absolutism that, without evidence, deplores existing diversity in the name of an ideal alternative. What would the latter look like?
In the wake of Benjamin Compaines challenge, Robert McChesney reaffirms his view that the concentration of media ownership is a danger to democracy, as it augments the limitations of a corporate and commercial system. This is a global issue, and not simply a US one. But since US media corporations are so powerful and influential across the world, the conclusions that follow from a focus on the US experience have a much wider relevance.
Media conglomerates are not as powerful as they seem, for even corporations must respect the discipline of the market. A diverse media reflects the plurality of publics in modern society. This is democracy in action.
The global media are integrating and their ownership is concentrating in fewer hands. This process threatens to undermine democracy. We need more independent and non-commercial media to challenge the corporate stranglehold on the culture.