Only days since the FCC’s controversial relaxing of regulations for media corporations, now is an opportune time to discuss the effects of media on democracy and capitalism on media. A widely held and reiterated argument for capitalism is that it is a brilliant counterpart to democracy; that the two systems, economic and political respectively, go hand in hand. The defense of this position alludes to the bidirectional stimulation of growth; where capitalism creates a “constituency for personal freedoms” through the free market and the “transparency and accountability” of democratic systems prevents much of the corruption that would otherwise impede a capitalist economy (Dahl, 1998). It is also asserted that the two systems contribute to the utility of the whole by allowing each member to seek his own self-interest. Thus, the parallel between the two: the elites, politicians and capitalists, must answer to the voting and consuming bodies in order to maintain their position. Seemingly, only those elites who cater to the utility of the whole will remain in power. However, this argument takes for granted that a system of surveillance exists so that the masses can judge the decisions made by their representatives. In America, this system is the news media, and it clearly exists, but we must investigate whether it is serving its watchdog purposes or not. We will first examine how democracy is vulnerable to the media and then how the media is vulnerable to capitalism.
The Role of Media in Democracy
The media indeed plays an important role in American society. Its function is to serve as the eyes and ears of the voting body so that the goals of our political system are met. First, we must define what those goals are.
The United States of America has been a democracy since its founding in 1776. This political system was a solution to the gripes of the American colonies under the rule of imperial Great Britain. The most notable rally call, “No taxation without representation” holds great weight and clues us in to the purposes of this system. Each citizen is affected by the government’s decisions; therefore, each citizen deserves a voice in the construction of that government. As Lincoln put it, “democracy is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” The term “the people” implies an egalitarian group of citizens and not a mixed group consisting of stratified classes of citizens with varying degrees of voting power. This is precisely why the system allots one vote to each voter, because each citizen should be equally represented in his/her government.
However, while the system accounts for official votes, it does not account for the ability of some individuals to influence the voting of others. Imagine a hypothetical situation in which one person can manipulate the votes of his peers. His peers are still voting, and each votes once, but the voting power of that manipulating individual is the sum of his and his peers. He is more powerful and more heavily represented in politics than the others. This kind of influence can not be accounted for when the manipulating individual is privy to the same knowledge that his peers are. This is the “man on the soapbox” argument. Conrad Black, a Canadian newspaper owner, compares himself to a “man on a soapbox on the corner of the street” when speaking of his influence over others in politics. Of course, there must be an acceptable range of influence among the voting body, specifically, in politicians vs. non-politicians and voters with greater abilities to argue for their positions. Black does not fall into either of these categories and thus raises the question of whether his amount of influence in the political system lies within that acceptable range. The answer is a resounding “NO” and that is because unlike our man on the soapbox, the information that Black...