Thursday, June 28, 2007

Murdoch and the Wall Street Journal Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.’s bid for Down Jones & Co is bad news for all those who value independent news reporting and analysis and believe that information content and insight are not the same as entertainment value and celebrity. The jewel in the crown of Dow Jones & Co is the Wall Street Journal, one of only two English language newspapers with a global reach and a reputation for independent reporting and analysis. The other one is the Financial Times. News and expert independent analysis have public goods features in a number of ways. First, like all information, it is costly to produce but can, with modern media technology, including the internet, be distributed/disseminated at effectively zero marginal cost. The fact that it is ex-post non-rival but costly to produce ex-ante means that profit-driven news and analysis provision will be sub-optimal. Second, the free and independent provision of news and analysis is essential for the survival of a free society. Politicians, however committed to freedom of expression and enquiry and to openness, transparency and accountability while in opposition, invariably, once they form a government, uncover all kinds of self-serving reasons for interfering with these freedoms and for limiting access to information. Governments and their servants feed us a daily diet of spin, deception and outright lies, and try to erect barriers and obstacles to deflect and harass those who are searching for the truth. Private concentrations of power likewise are hostile to news and information that they cannot manage and control. So independent news, commentary and analysis are public goods. How to ensure their survival, despite government hostility, the relentless pressures for quality debasement by the profit motive and the depredations of megalomaniac billionaires, is a serious challenge with no obvious answer. It must be clear, though, that for papers like the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, the shareholders are not the only stakeholders who should be heard when a change of ownership and control is in the works. The history of Murdoch’s ownership and control of media in Australia, the UK and the US makes it clear that there will be zero effective editorial independence for the Wall Street Journal should Down Jones & Co be purchased by News Corp. Under Murdoch’s control both the London Times and the Sunday Times have become Red-Tops as regards content and quality. In the world of the media, Rupert Murdoch is the King Midas of the sewers – everything he touches turns to dreck.

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