Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Power of Murdoch

It isn't a myth.

Senator Steve Fielding, the Family First member whose vote allowed Australia's new media laws to pass believes that what is in the media is driven by individual journalists and editors, not owners - on a personal level quite a nice idea, given that I am about to become one of those journalists and editors.

But, as John Garnaut outlines in Monday's Sydney Morning Herald, Australia's Productivity Commission reached a different view.

And then there's the (econometric) evidence - outlined in chilling detail by Garnaut:

In 2000 US local cable companies had made Fox News available in most but not all American towns.

An idiosyncratic cable roll-out provided economists Stefano DellaVigna, of the University of California, and Stockholm University's Ethan Kaplan with a "natural experiment" to compare voting in Fox towns with non-Fox towns.

In 2000 they found towns were significantly more likely to have voted Republican if they had access to Fox's strident political views. "Republicans gain 0.4 to 0.7 percentage points in the towns which broadcast Fox News," conclude DellaVigna and Kaplan in The Fox News Effect: Media Bias and Voting, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Four years earlier, when Bill Clinton defeated Bob Dole and Fox had not yet arrived, voting patterns of the two groups had been indistinguishable.

The authors say Fox was responsible for an "ideological shift" to the right that was broad rather than candidate-specific.

...Americans would have elected Al Gore president instead of George Bush in 2000 if Murdoch had not rolled out his audacious cable news channel...

Media ownership appears not to matter in America.

It is likely to matter more in Australia, where ownership is far more concentrated.

Garnaut concludes:

We can look forward to the natural experiments thrown up by the coming round of media consolidation.