Today's news that the Bancroft family has agreed to News Corp.'s $5 billion dollar buyout offer for Dow Jones, is a powerful reminder of how media consolidation is constantly eroding the foundational structures of our democracy. America's founders understood that a truly free press -- enlivened by diverse perspectives and beholden to the public interest -- is the keystone to a flourishing democracy. With the purchase of the Dow Jones Co. and its flagship Wall Street Journal another vital voice is brought under the umbrella of one conglomerate -- and one man -- that already controls too much of what Americans see, hear and read every day.
Since Rupert Murdoch's offer was made public, volumes have been written on what this historic deal might mean to journalism in America. A fair bit of the criticism and concern surrounding News Corp.'s bid for Dow Jones has focused on Murdoch himself and his well-documented penchant for employing his media outlets to advance his personal and business interests.
The Wall Street Journal is regarded as a bulwark of journalistic independence, seen by many as one of the most reliable sources of business news and a critical watchdog of corporate behavior. With less and less hard news being covered by the corporate media, newspapers like the Journal hold a powerful place in American society, helping to shape the national news agenda. Murdoch's influence over editorial policy at the Journal will have profound effects on what we see and hear on the news. Those concerned about the journalistic independence and editorial integrity at the Journal have good reason to be worried.
In addition to fears over his heavy-handed influence on editorial decisions, many worry about how Murdoch will streamline operations to create "synergy" between his various media holdings, such as Fox News and the recently announced Fox Business Network. Synergy is usually just another word for layoffs. These strategies have contributed to the dramatic staff reductions at newspapers across the country. Budget cuts have slashed things like investigative reporting and foreign bureaus in favor of "infotainment."
Above all, we ought to be most concerned with the health of our media system. Media consolidation, by its nature, diminishes the diversity of voices represented in our media or able to access to the presses and the airwaves. With fewer points of view available, those select few with an outlet increase their capacity to shape public opinion, politics and daily life. It is easy to make Murdoch a target, but this deal is not about one man so much as it is about a whole system of policies that creates a rich media but a poor democracy.
Some may say we should just let the market take its course. But today's media system isn't simply the evolutionary result of "market forces at work." It's the result of policies created by Congress and enforced by the FCC. Without those policies, Murdoch couldn't have built his media empire. Only by restoring public input in the policymaking process, can we reverse this trend and make America's media a healthier place where a marketplace of ideas and the free market can co-exist.
We can't change Rupert Murdoch. But we can change the policies that allow companies like News Corp. to control our media. We can create new policies that foster the kind of diverse, accessible and vibrant media that our country's founders imagined and our democracy needs.
Josh Silver is Executive Director of Free Press.
© 2007 Huffington Post