Like Father Like Son: James Murdoch on the Media

Recap: The Internet made previously paid-for content suddenly free and vendors who relied on the profitability of the written, spoken and video recorded word are struggling to stay afloat. Journalism qua journalism is now befalling the tragedy of the commons—everyone wants responsible reporting, but nobody, alas, wants to pay for it.

Enter James Murdoch, son of Rupert, to the Edinburgh International Television Festival. Giving the keynote speech yesterday, which his father gave in 1989, James preached the values of “enterprise, free choice and commercial investment” in the media. In an outright challenge to the British Broadcasting Corporation’s business model, which I’ve explained earlier, he applied social Darwinism to the media saying that the unregulated process of evolution (life devouring other life) is a model to which the media industry should aspire.

Despite the bombast of the speech being more like a Fox News broadcast than a sober evaluation of the media, it did resonate with many in England who recognize a bloated, bureaucratic and poorly defined BBC. Murdoch, speaking more from a traditionally American point of view, said that regulation implies distrust of the public (Rupert’s word was “consumers”)—that a regulated media lacks faith in people’s (consumer’s) ability to discern truth from fiction.

Thankfully, outside of the recognition that the BCC is a bit bureaucratic, nobody is listening too much to Mr. Murdoch and for good reason: regulation is not meant as a restriction on consumers, but as a safeguard against companies whose profit motive trumps the interest of the public. Sex sells. Gossip too.

In response to the declining profits of traditional media, some sources are going non-profit and in doing so being explicit about their commitment to the public good. Here’s a blog that follows journalism’s non-profit experiment.

It’s not that the media has lost faith in its public to discern fact from fiction, but that some have lost faith in a very basic value that the media should represent accuracy and truth first, profit second. Mr. Murdoch said in his speech that every reporter has their bias—fine, then let’s get back to being biased in favor of the public’s interest.

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