15 July 2011

It all began with Maggie and Ron

The modern march to free market supremacy is often thought to have begun with the ascendancy of the conservative regimes of Margaret Thatcher in the U.K. and the Ronald Reagan in the U.S. One of its ultimate—and inevitable—outcomes was the recent collapse of the world financial system and wrecking of the economies of those nations most seduced by it.

And now another chicken has come home to roost. The British media has been exposed as massively corrupt, a corruption that has crept also into the United States. Much of this has resulted directly from the policies of the twin conservative ideologues.

Murdoch was in no small degree a creature of Thatcher. Prior to the arrival of the Iron Lady on the political scene, Murdoch owned two tabloids, the Sun and the News of the World, fun reads whose exuberance, sports coverage and girly pics appealed to a male, blue-collar readership. Neither were politically influential. In return for Murdoch's support in her political endeavours, Thatcher set aside the competition law, allowing him to buy the Times and the Sunday Times and thus become the major player in the British press. Her support was also critical to Murdoch acquiring exclusive football rights, central to the success of his Sky TV. In return for this largesse, he turned his media muscle loose on Thatcher's enemies. The rise of Murdoch's empire and Thatcher's political reign in the 1980s was not coincidental.

Meanwhile in the United States, President Ronald Reagan's henchmen were busily dismantling the Fairness Doctrine, one of American democracy's strengths. The doctrine was a policy of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that required broadcasters to present controversial issues of public importance and to present them in a manner that was honest, equitable and balanced. Under Reagan-appointed commissioners, the FCC stopped enforcing the Fairness Doctrine and repealed it entirely in 1987. Thus was the door opened for vested interests to dominate the air waves without the inconvenience of offering counter opinions.

Dominated by an unethical oligarch, the British media has degenerated into a cesspool of sleazy, bullying journalism and political influence peddling. The latter is the greatest threat, corrupting not only journalistic standards but democracy itself. Murdoch, triumphant in Britain, carried his corruption into the U.S. After turning his Sun newspaper in the U.K. into an instrument of crude news manipulation and distortion, now free of the need for fairness in the US. he was able to apply the model there with his Fox News network. Fox has brought journalism not down into the gutter, but into the sewer.

At best, Thatcher and Reagan were naive ideologues, believing the invisible hand would guide greedy, ruthless men to act responsibly even as they were released from reasonable rules. At worst, they were simply political opportunists, willing to trample the public good for their own ideological and political ends. Either way, we continue to pay a high price for their misguided ambitions.


  1. Bill I consider media deregulation, giving rise to unfettered concentration of ownership and cross-ownership, to be far more damaging to democracy than scrapping the Fairness Doctrine. It paved the way for a tightly held corporate media that, in turn, greased the way for a sweetheart relationship between the media barons and the political caste willing to do their bidding for mutual reward. With that the media went from being the watchdog of government to its lapdog. We've had plenty of opportunity to witness this miserable reality in Canada.

  2. I agree that George Bush's chairman of the FCC, Michael Powell, may have done even more mischief than Reagan's appointees with his passion for deregulation. He was a true heir of the Maggie and Ron show.