Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism (2004)

Director: Robert Greenwald

Documentary on reported Conservative bias of the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox News Channel (FNC), which promotes itself as "Fair and Balanced". Material includes interviews with former FNC employees and inter-office memos they provided.

It is not news that FNC is a propaganda machine for Republican party and Rupert Murdoch himself. As a Liverpool fan, I don't need a documentary piece to become aware of this slimy conservative cunt who goes by the name of Rupert 'fucking' Murdoch. The slanderous coverage of Hillsborough disaster by Murdoch owned 'Sun' which prompted  LFC supporters to start the 'Don' Buy the Sun' campaign have over the years also attracted support from other people who have been the victims of NEWSCORP's version of journalism- reaching a peak during the 'News of the World' scandal. It is a shame that I have to depend on his STAR group of channels to watch the LFC matches and all I can do is avoid watching their shitty punditry during the game coverage. I guess something is better than nothing. Same is true for the LFC supporters in UK where Murdoch owned 'SKY' have got a sort of monopoly on football coverage even though BT Sports is making some inroads.

Having said all that, I don't have much problem with the way FNC operates. They are so obvious and consistent in their propaganda that only people with very low IQ could not see through it. They are anyway going to vote Republican so it doesn't matter that much. I think what he is doing in some other places like UK is much more dangerous. There he owns many different newspapers/tabloids which he uses to curry favor with politicians as well as blackmail them. His support is not always consistent to a particular party and in this form it is much more effective for him and dangerous to the public. As someone in the documentary says, propaganda is much more effective when the people who are being subjected is not aware that it is going own. 

I had read an article in Economist a while back which discussed the idea that a media organization should be unbiased is a very recent phenomenon. When news media outlets started they were operating on a subscription model and it was more profitable for them to cater to their own particular audience and be biased to suit that. It was only when advertising became the major revenue generator that they started trying to appeal to a more broad audience and all this hoopla around unbiased coverage began. Now with the advent of Internet we are again going back to the niche model of catering to a narrower target audience. I actually prefer this model since there is no danger of being deceived since you already know from what angle they are coming from and we won't take everything as gospel. India is still  dominated by newspapers which gives you their own propaganda under the veneer of unbiased coverage- Times of India when it comes to India overall and Malayala Manorama group in Kerala. It is interesting that India is the only country in which Murdoch failed to get a foothold in the News business. It is not a testament to the quality of coverage by Indian media but a case of them being as good or even better than Murdoch in own game of shitty journalism.

One of the main issue that they highlight in the documentary regarding FNC coverage is them passing their opinion as news. That is of course dangerous if people are not aware of it. But in general I am not really a fan of listening to what the traditional news media covers as news these days in their 24x7 frenzy. Most of it is just noise which doesn't add any value. I prefer spending time reading opinion on different subjects than news, but one should always be aware about the biases that creeps into these opinions. I stopped reading newspapers in print around five years back and if at all I get my hands on a newspaper these days I only care for the editorial/op-ed pages and the local cinema listings. I depend primarily on twitter these days for news/opinion and there I follow traditional media outlets like 'The Hindu', 'The Economist', 'New York Times etc as well as new age things like 'Vox', 'The Daily Beast' and 'Slate'. When you are using twitter you just browse through your timeline and save for reading what interests you and most of them tend to be either opinion articles or things that just gives the background details regarding the news item. Still you have to be aware that your timeline essentially replicates your own biases around the issues and since I am a centrist/leftist liberal my timeline kind of reflects that.

Another issue that the documentary highlights is the coordinated way in which the propaganda is delivered by FNC. They take their cue from Republican party on the issue to be highlighted during that particular and you get a coordinated attack. This is something that I have observed in Malayalam news channels. It is a very fertile space with more than eight 24x7 news channels by my count covering this small state. The prime time is filled with debates on some issue and the issue tend to be same for all the news channels almost every day and so are the people who get interviewed. I don't think it is a healthy practice since your are not really getting diversity of opinion despite the numerous coverage on a particular issue. It just becomes a big echo chamber with the only scope for differentiation being the quality of anchor who takes center stage. Don't get me fucking started on Arnab Goswami.

What FNC have essentially done by their coverage and financial profits is that they got other channels in US aping what they are doing. The other channels should have stuck with the adage:         'Don't argue with stupid people. They will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience'. Concentration of news media into a very few groups and the corporate ownership of the same is a big issue in US. India is also gonna face the same issue with things like Reliance takeover of 'Network 18' group and paid news scandals already cropping up. I think even if that happens if people are educated enough they will start looking for alternate sources from Internet. It is a lot of ifs and funding for ground level reporting is still a major issue. Internet outlets are still depending on traditional news media for basic ground level reporting since it is a very expensive business. 

Overall the documentary is a very good watch and it is useful to understand the techniques that FNC uses which you can also find in several other news outlets. The director Robert Greenwald is no relation to Glenn Greenwald of the Snowden leak fame. 

Rating: 3.5/5