Five problems with the media

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Five problems with the media

New Internationalist is starting a new democratic future in the media. Vanessa Baird writes about the problems in today’s media.


by ZoonarRF/Thinkstock

We are living in a time full of danger and new possibilities, especially with the media. Here are five media problems:

Is print dying or coming back to life?

For years people have said that print magazines and newspapers are dying. But many are still here. And we are seeing signs of more, new independent, different print magazines and very local newspapers.

The internet led to the print media dying and took away its money. After all, why buy news in print when it is free online? The number of readers who will pay for news online (nine per cent) cannot replace those who paid for print before.

But the internet is also very good for media like New Internationalist. Before the internet we never thought two million people a year would read New Internationalist and our articles about social, economic, global, and environmental justice.

A lot of money comes from online media but most of it goes to the tech companies like Facebook, Google, and others. They don’t say this but these big tech companies are in fact advertising agencies and publishers. They get their money from others who no longer receive the profits.

Do we love or hate the media?

People attack the media more than before.

It is surprising how easy it was for Donald Trump and his special advisor Steve Bannon with his ‘fake news’, to attack the media which reported truths they did not like.

But now we are seeing a reaction against these attacks. Donald Trump’s attacks on The New York Times and others means more people buy papers (yes, buy them) to support them against Trump. If Trump hates your newspaper or stops you from going to his news meetings, it is now a good thing for you!

Is news fake or real?

But still a lot of people do not trust or believe the media.

Worries about ‘fake news’ make people think that the media tell lies.

It is very easy now to give wrong information and for the fake news to go around the world very quickly. In fact, the technology prefers lies.

It’s all in the algorithms. The internet makes it possible to write fake and interesting stories to attract advertisers.

And lies make more money than the truth. Lies, such as Breitbart’s report that 1,000 Muslims attacked and set fire to the cathedral in Dortmund, Germany, do better still. This fake news went around the world on New Year’s Eve, making dollars for advertisers.

And when Facebook, Google, and others say, ‘We are not the media, we are just the technology’, it seems the system is out of control.

Most of the extremist sites that have come from the US since 2010 are on the Right, politically. But here’s another strange thing: the same company, American News LLC of Miami, owns two sites, the leftwing Liberal Society and the rightwing Conservative 101. This is the publisher of the fake story that Denzel Washington supported Donald Trump. The company now seems to be moving into religion and registered and

Hiding the truth or helping the truth?

Media companies that tell lies, or give wrong information are not new or only online. The popular newspapers – especially, but not only, those Rupert Murdoch owns – have a long history of not telling the truth and invading personal privacy.

Britain’s phone-hacking scandal around murdered teenager Milly Dowler and the first part of the Leveson Inquiry showed this.

When some big media companies act badly, it affects all of the media. Polls show that trust in the media is very low now, with trust in journalists at 25 per cent like estate agents. In some popular newspapers it’s down to 11 per cent.

But this bad situation also leads to active public interest. Interested people and journalists have come together in the Media Reform Coalition. Last December, its Media Democracy Festival at Birkbeck College, London was full.

There is pressure on the industry to be better. One reason the British popular press has been so bad is that its system of self-regulation does not work. And the big media companies are still trying to avoid the situation and say that the Leveson Inquiry’s recommendations are in fact censorship and take away press freedom.

The Daily Mail, Murdoch’s papers The Sun and The Times, and The Express, have joined the Independent Press Standards Organization. This is a useless organisation they created.

They campaigned against one of Leveson’s recommendations which the officially recognized monitor, IMPRESS, and New Internationalist accepted. And UK Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Committee attacked them.

Campaigning editor Sir Harold Evans called for The Guardian, The Financial Times and others to join IMPRESS which, he said, offered ‘the best protection for serious news reporting and investigations into corruption and the abuse of power.’

Do the many or the few own the media?

The final problem is about who owns the media. Australia and New Zealand/Aotearoa have some of the fewest media owners in the world. Britain follows with three companies owning 70 per cent of national newspapers, and six companies owning 80 per cent of local newspapers. The situation is similar around the world and is worse because of the economic situation of the internet, which prefers big, rich companies.

This reduces democracy. The internet and social media seem diverse, but they are not. A lot of the news and information comes from the same small number of media companies. The owners often have different media types – press, broadcasting, online – and make close connections with government for more power and profits. Social media is good but it cannot replace the need for professional journalism that looks for justice amongst the powerful.

But there are signs of change. Journalists who want to do a good job are starting independent, very local newspapers. Crowdfunding is becoming a more common way to support independent reporting.

There are new ways of owning media like New Internationalist’s community share offer. The role of media is to inform in the best way it can and to speak truth to power. It needs to be accountable. This new media model with many owners and not one rich owner has the best ideas of journalism and accountability at its heart.

By buying shares, our readers and supporters can be the owners of New Internationalist. They will look after our high ideas.

It’s a new model for new and difficult times. It is the next step on New Internationalist’s journey to media democracy.

These are dangerous times for independent media but they are also the most exciting times for democracy. And we can all be part of it.

FOR THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE AND REFERENCES: (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have changed).