Hundreds of people gathered yesterday afternoon in New York City outside the headquarters of the News Corporation to protest a racially insensitive cartoon in the New York Post, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. It was a worthy exercise to express outrage over imagery in the cartoon that many people feel demeans President Barack Obama and is reminiscent of racial stereotypes from an era many Americans now look upon with shame. The large outpouring to protest the Post’s leadership and the cartoonist is indicative of the degree to which many Blacks are by the publishing of the cartoon in a major city daily newspaper. Despite the public outcry, the Post’s management initially defended the cartoonist and the cartoon until the paper offered a weak apology on its website last night.
We too find the cartoon to be offensive but see it as a small part of a much larger issue. The protest against the New York Post will have some short-term effect; it will lose some Black readership and perhaps some advertisers who feel pressure from Black consumers. What will not change is the fundamental orientation of the paper and the many media platforms that its parent – News Corporation – owns. The larger issue of media ownership is more of our concern, and the degree to which Blacks are absent on the ownership side of the news media equation. What gives the Post cartoon weight is the media conglomerate behind it. The marginalization of Blacks is emboldened when deep pockets can withstand the outrage, even in these difficult economic circumstances.
What many Blacks do not realize is the depth of Rupert Murdoch’s empire. The New York Post is just one of the news ventures under Murdoch’s control. There is also the Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard magazine, the Fox News Channel, the Fox News Channel, Fox Business Networks, and the My Space social networking website. In the New York City alone, Murdoch’s company controls two broadcast television stations and along with the Post. Therefore, while the cartoon offends, the larger offense in our minds is the degree to which our community has slept the whole media ownership issue.
How did we get to this point of media asphyxiation? When Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, a Pandora’s Box was open as media companies, and others, with deep enough pockets, went on a spending spree. With restrictions over media concentration and cross-platform ownership over, the nation’s information system was permanently altered and skewed to the disadvantage of the poor, people of color, and progressive thinkers. Almost overnight, the change became evident. Soon 24-hour cable news channels were spouting racially coded rhetoric, newspapers were publishing inflammatory articles and cartoons, and combinations of local broadcast television stations and newspapers in single markets were influencing the public debate in ways unimaginable three decades ago.
Where WE failed was the lack of vision in seeing the importance of getting in the news and information game. Consider how the current environment could be different had Black Entertainment Television (BET) invested in its news gathering operation, and created strategic alliances with other Black media or outright purchased Black newspapers? The Post might still run a racially offensive cartoon but there would be a distribution platform large enough for Black dissent to be truly heard beyond the front door of the News Corporation headquarters.
It is time we took the news business just as serious as we do entertainment and sports. Public attitudes and public policy is shaped by what people consume through newspapers, radio broadcasts, television news and websites. NorthStarNews.com is our attempt to swim against the tide.