It couldn’t be more urgent — not only to those of us in the online generation but to everyone with a stake in liberal democracy — that the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) fail to become law.
Rupert Murdoch, CEO and director of the global News Corporation, has been lobbying Congress in support of these acts — and no wonder. Amelia Arsenault and Manuel Castells, social theorists at the University of Southern California, contend that Murdoch has achieved the status of what they call a switcher in our current network society. A switcher is a person who is able to exert immense power by moving between, connecting or disconnecting the nodes where business, media, economic, political and other networks meet.
Murdoch, however, happens to have control of all the major communication networks but one: the Internet. And thus Murdoch’s very personal interest is in SOPA. Murdoch’s attempts to control this remaining network, starting with Internet provider Delphi and ending with Myspace, have led to one failure after another. It is no wonder, then, that Murdoch has taken it upon himself to deliver a substantial blow to our last free medium by supporting SOPA.
Murdoch has taken NewsCorp to a level of prominence surpassing that of other major global media groups. Among the CEOs of these corporations, Murdoch alone has deliberately instituted policies that override corporate governance limitations and give him absolute control over the affairs of his company. Murdoch’s control is so pervasive that his influence overrides the individual editorial policies of his subsidiaries.
A 2003 Guardian survey found that all 175 NewsCorp-controlled newspapers mimicked Murdoch’s support for the invasion of Iraq, George Bush and Tony Blair and were equally derisive of anti-war protesters. Numerous former NewsCorp employees have sued the company, claiming they were dismissed from their editorial duties because they resisted pressure to withhold politically damaging information.
Two investigative reporters for a Florida Fox affiliate were fired in 1996 because they refused to withhold information about the health risks of a hormone injected in dairy producing cows. Arseault and Castells claim the particular information would hurt Monsango, a drug company that was also a major advertiser in Murdoch-owned media.
Murdoch’s global reach is closely matched by his continuous interventions in politics that go far beyond political influence wielded by the other media groups. Recall the recent News of the World phone hacking scandal, in which reporters from the British tabloid were discovered to have been hacking into politicians’ and murder victims’ cell phones.
Through political brokering, Murdoch has removed regulatory hurdles in the way of NewsCorp’s expansion. But his immense power in the network society depends crucially on his ability to control the last remaining network – namely, the Internet.
His master plan for controlling this last remaining network is evident in the fact that Saudi Prince AlWaleed bin Talal, Murdoch’s friend and a major shareholder of NewsCorp, recently purchased a good chunk of Twitter for $300 million.
Some may wonder why the Saudi prince would invest in his enemy, the networking site reputed to have had much to do with the recent uprisings that threaten the Saudi royal family. A possible answer to this may be found in Murdoch’s desire to control the Internet.
A number of websites — most notably, Google and Wikipedia — shut down briefly to protest against what Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales calls a “badly written” act that would not only stop piracy but enable the powers that be to control the free flow of information on the Internet.
If Murdoch is successful, we might as well say our requiem for any hopes of running this world on apart from Murdoch’s influence.
Mitrah Avini is a senior in Trumbull College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.