Journalism: The New Corporatocracy

“Democracy dies in darkness.” The infamous slogan of the Washington Post highlights the importance of journalism as we become increasingly aware of how fragile our democratic institutions are. It’s a phrase quoted by Amazon founder, the newly ordained second-richest man on Earth (after being surpassed by Elon Musk), the second billionaire to go to space, and the man who bought the Washington Post for $250M- Jeffrey Bezos. There’s a twinge of irony, hearing that a man who believes in union squashing and has frequently come under fire for the maltreatment of his workers owns a publication that purports to be one of the forces keeping democracy alive. There is an idea that the goal of media is to inform the public, to keep us critically engaged with the world around us based on facts, but in a society where journalism is morphing into a tool for corporations and political entities, does this idea still exist? 

Every other post on social media I’ve scrolled past, to about everyone I’ve encountered in my whole seventeen years of being, seems to share varying degrees of the opinion that doomsday is approaching. I can’t blame them — it’s difficult watching the world around you collapse, from our environment to making financial ends meet, all while wondering “what went wrong?”, “what are we missing?”

 A part of what we seem to be missing is authentic journalism, an examination of the goings-on of society based on facts and given context. The press seems to have multiplied into a Cerberus-like creature, rearing many heads at the gates of the afterlife, but ultimately all of the heads are attached to one body that serves one master.  

In Canada, media ownership is in the hands of a concentrated number of private enterprises. These media conglomerates don’t only serve to benefit major corporations but are the major corporations themselves. Suddenly it begins to make much more sense as to why the press seems to view citizens as spectators to the democratic process, rather than active participants. The communal feeling of being sitting-ducks as our institutions crumble is justified, because how can someone rely on enterprises who only seek to gain and get bigger, to keep us involved? We may feel like bystanders to the inner processes of society, but the truth appears far worse than that. A key idea in Noam Chomsky’s book examining media and the political economy — Manufacturing Consent, is that every corporation, including what we call the “free press”, has a market of potential buyers, and a product. The market? Overflowing with other businesses, each of them willing to aid the mass media in making money, and all in exchange for the product. An audience. Simply put in the documentary, The Social Dilemma, “if you are not paying for the product, you are the product.” A press founded on democratic ideals is meant to operate as a check on political and corporatocratic power, not become a benefactor of it.  

The most significant media markets in business don’t only hold a tight grip on media but are regular household names. Bell, Rogers, Quebecor, Shaw — all of these are well-known for their telecom services, broadcast television, multichannel pay television, cable, satellite, and internet access. These owners and their supporters will claim that this is the only way journalism can thrive in a growing global economy. But in a world where media literacy grows to be more complex with each passing day, with more responsibility on the reader’s shoulders to fully dissect what they learn, how can journalism be surviving, much less thriving? Six companies own nearly 70% of our papers, so how much of our free press is free? 

This is not to say all journalism in Canada is now based on a profiteering agenda that seeks to brainwash its citizens. For the most part, we are given honest facts of the daily occurrences, we form an opinion, and we go on from there. The complexity lies within the stories themselves, and the lack of nuances and truth. Media aims to push an agenda, and that agenda of ruling-class loyalty is visible in almost every story told. 

I often recall my regular 6PMs with my family, and all of us gathered on the couch prepared for the evening news. This daily tradition between my family and Global News resulted in a growing curiosity for certain stories that would find themselves being typed up in the Google search bar of a 2009 desktop computer. I think I can count on one hand how many of those stories on my first listen consisted of the truth in its entirety, without bias, or without misleading announcements from agents of the state.  

If the press is made up of enterprises seeking to create profit in place of engaging citizens with relevant stories of the world around them, it lacks the very foundation that makes journalism so essential to democracy. If there isn’t any faith in who is giving us the information, then there is a lack of faith in the information itself, which can lead to dangerous conspiracy theories that grow from that very seed of mistrust. We see this with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the absurd opinions of those who refuse to believe in instructions given by health experts, solely due to who the messenger is. It’s said that the power of the pen is mankind’s greatest weapon, so it’s a grave disappointment when the wielders are not informed citizens gathering news, but companies who operate within the shadows. 

The need for quality journalism is skyrocketing, and there is very little satiating it. The collective dislike of affiliated stations has turned into a slight uptick in independent news media, but that isn’t enough. There needs to be a global uprising in journalism serving the interests of the people, and converting to the purpose of keeping systems of power in check. The truth is not found in the interests of corporations or by maintaining a western hegemony, but in our communities. Honest journalism is only existent when journalism is serving working-class interests. 

I think about the stories I would hear on the news. Or the stories that regularly pop up on my phone, a notification with a title designed to make me click on it, and with a story that makes me exit out. There’s a common denominator in it all, the authenticity that is visibly missing. It’s a widely held opinion that journalism lacks diversity, and doesn’t include the point of view of anyone who does not hold privilege in our society. But rather than blaming the journalists, the anchors — maybe we should turn our glares towards those who profit off of the exclusion of certain voices. Journalism is a weapon, and it is currently in the hands of the 1%, and not with the communities it should be with.   

To uphold democracy, the media needs to hold all institutions responsible, not become an institution of its own. Freedom of the press is curated by and for the same people, with the sole aim to engage and inform, without consisting of blurry boundaries between journalism, advertising, and entertainment.

“Democracy dies in darkness” is a phrase being said as we all stand in the middle of a dimly lit room.  

Astha Sudhan-Sharma

Marxist. Anti-imperialist. Studying history and political science on Coast Salish land.

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