Written by Randeep Singh
In Politics and the English Language, George Orwell notes that thinking clearly is necessary for a democratic society. Clearly expressed language encourages clear thinking; and nothing obfuscates clear meaning, and clear thinking, more than political language.
Like “Obamacare,” “collateral damage” and “the big society,” “corporate media” is a contemporary example of political language. Noam Chomsky defines corporate media as a media biased towards the interests of state and corporate power. The point is not whether such a media exists. It’s whether the term “corporate media” makes any sense in describing it.
First, the term “corporate media” says nothing about biased “non-corporate” media. These include public access television, community television channels and local radio stations. All media is biased. Such bias results from socially and culturally embedded views of the principals of these media and from practical limitations (e.g. operating budgets, editorial chain of command) which affect what news is covered, how much it is covered and how it is covered.
Second, the term “corporate media” assumes that what is “corporate” is a simple, undifferentiated mass. The term “corporate” though covers a wide spectrum of business activity. “Corporate” refers to the forming of a business entity which is legally independent from the principals who create, own or manage it. The term can refer to one’s local neighbourhood bakery, law office, a chain of convenience store as well as to Tim Hortons, the Royal Bank of Canada and Walmart.
Media corporations can be state-owned (Xinhua), publicly owned (the BBC, CBC) or privately owned. Privately owned media corporations may be independently owned (the Guardian, New York Times) or owned by a media conglomerate (e.g. CNN, Fox News), both types interested in making a profit. The latter are subject to additional constraints: the interests of its parent company and shareholders and the decisions they make affecting the news company.
The latter may be Chomsky’s idea of corporate media. The term “corporate media” however reduces something complex to a slogan, a catchphrase, a crutch for arguments to fall back on. In relying on such terms, we otherwise thwart a more critical and rigorous debate on issues like the media, power, business and democracy. As Orwell said, if thought corrupts language, then language also corrupts thought. Terms like corporate media demand an unquestioned, ideological acceptance and conformity of thought at the expense of free inquiry.