Greta Bitante, Nadine Lakhal, Jinhong Park, Laura Sanz, Mengzhi Zeng, Ieva Zinovičiūtė
Without any doubt, media capture has quickly become one of the world’s most difficult and intractable problems. In a growing number of countries, collusion between governments and wealthy media owners is becoming the preferred method of political consolidation and for maintaining the power of a small elite. Aggravated by the economic weakness of the traditional news business and the growing concentration of ownership of media industries, media capture has become one of the major tools for undermining democratic societies and handing them over to authoritarian rule.
It is well known that in some authoritarian regimes, media are often biased. The lack of media independence generally has to do with media capture by political interests. In countries such as Turkey, Russia or Egypt, media outlets are mostly state-owned and the content being published is strictly controlled, which goes totally against democratic values and freedom of expression. However, media capture is not the same as censorship imposed from a State, since it operates through collaboration between media owners and the State. As Andrew Finkel argues, captured media often chases its audiences with screaming headlines, political intrigue, with the aim of influencing a large number of people while maintaining the favour of the Government.
Media capture is a means by which public opinion is manipulated, vested interests are preserved and political control is consolidated by a small elite. In countries such as Russia, it has the shape of a deliberate and organized campaign by an authoritarian leader. By the time societies become aware of it and start trying to curb its influence, the system is well entrenched. This phenomenon is currently stopping the countries from developing democratic values. It blocks press freedom and critical thinking towards the government’s actions. Unfortunately, systemic media capture is becoming the dominant model of organization in a growing number of media markets across the world.
The menace brought by media capture becomes progressively embedded within the political system, impervious to reform. However, the current efforts to curtail or limit its impact are inadequate. Despite media capture’s great impact, few countries in the developing world have active debates about the governance of the media environment that is giving rise to media capture. In order to end the problem, the strengthening of public awareness and political will on media capture and its deleterious effects on the overall governance environment is fundamental. Government action and carefully constructed regulation are also important components of the needed response.
So is the media ownership, as Andrew Finkel, a well known British journalist stated that ‘newspapers and media organizations have changed hands under dramatic circumstances over the last two decades, suggesting that ownership has gone from being an effective tool for the harvest of economic rent to a potential liability’.
He also argues that acknowledging corruption within the nation’s media organization, including those that knowingly publish propaganda or decline to report news that the government does not condone is a fundamental step in order to assess media independence within a country. Since Ankara has rightfully earned the title of the world’s foremost jailer of journalists – in early 1999 there were 27 journalists in Turkish prisons – Andrew Finkel’s experience is a great testimony of the effects media capture has on freedom of expression and on journalists in particular. As he argues, ‘it is impossible to fully protect journalists when the core tenets of journalism are themselves in peril’.
Finkel, A. (2015). Captured News Media–The Case of Turkey. Washington: Center for International Media Assistance, National Endowment for Democracy