In 1983, the principal media in the Western world, which dominate much of the media in the rest of the world, were owned by 50 corporations. In 2002, this had fallen to nine transnational companies. Rampant deregulation has ended even a semblance of diversity.
In February this year, Rupert Murdoch predicted that, within three years, there would be just three global media corporations and his company would be one of them. He may have exaggerated, but not by much. Consider the situation in Australia, where Murdoch controls 70% of the capital city press, including the only newspapers serving Adelaide and Brisbane. (In Adelaide, he controls all the printing presses.)
On the Internet, the leading 20 websites are now owned by the likes of Fox (Murdoch), Disney, AOL Time Warner, Viacom and a clutch of other giants; just 14 companies attract 60% of all the time Americans spend online. The owners of these vast enterprises make no secret of their global ambition: to produce not informed, free-thinking citizens, but obedient customers and to reinforce the rapacious ideology of neoliberalism.
Never, in my experience, has free journalism been as vulnerable to subversion on a grand, often unrecognisable scale. Giant public relations companies, employed by the state and other vested interests, now account for much of the editorial content of the media, however insidious their methods and indirect their message. This is another kind of â€œembeddingâ€, known in military circles as â€œinformation dominanceâ€, which in turn is part of â€œfull spectrum dominanceâ€. The objective is the merging of information control and the nominally free media.
How do we react to this? My own view is that the immediate future lies with the emerging samidzat, the word for the unofficial media during the late Soviet period. Given the current technology, the potential is huge. On the worldwide web, the best alternative websites are already read by an audience of millions. The courageous reporting of a new breed of â€œcitizen reportersâ€ from besieged Iraq has provided an antidote to the â€œembeddedâ€ coverage of the official media. In the United States, independent newspapers flourish alongside popular independent community-based radio stations, such as Pacifica and Amy Goodman's Democracy Now.
In Australia, against the odds, the samidzat is growing, and I would say its model is Green Left Weekly (http://www.greenleft.org.au), which is produced and published by volunteers and provides a wider coverage of the â€œotherâ€ world â€” a world that often does not exist in the so-called mainstream â€” than any newspaper with resources of which GLW has not even a fraction.
Those of us who report this â€œotherâ€ world â€” actually the majority of humanity â€” know that true internationalism has returned and that public opinion has been aroused in so many countries, perhaps as never before. People have the right for their voices to be heard, and those who provide the means deserve all our support.
[John Pilger's new book, Tell Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and Its Triumphs, is published in Australia in November by Random House.]