Los Angeles Times
October 10, 1999, Sunday, Home Edition
SECTION: Opinion; Part M; Page 5; Op Ed Desk
LENGTH: 368 words
MEDIA TITANS STRESS PROFITS OVER JOURNALISTIC MISSION;
ETHICS: IF IT'S NOT THE JOB OF NEWS ORGANIZATIONS TO EXPOSE MISDEEDS AND
ATROCITIES AROUND THE WORLD, WHOSE JOB IS IT?
BYLINE: RUSS BAKER, Russ Baker is a New York-based journalist
who has written about, Rupert Murdoch's Chinese interests in the Columbia
Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone, in China
for the celebration of 50 years of communist rule, advised international news
organizations to avoid offending sensitive governments. "Journalistic
integrity must prevail in the final analysis," he said. "But that
doesn't mean that journalistic integrity should be exercised in a way that is
unnecessarily offensive to the countries in which you operate."
That's a remarkable statement coming from a man who is likely to be overseeing
CBS News after Viacom completes an expected takeover.
Redstone isn't alone among media titans in stressing profits over journalistic
mission. In 1994, News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch removed the BBC from his
satellite broadcasts into China at the request of Chinese officials, who did not
like a BBC-aired program about Mao Tse-tung. Murdoch also canceled a book by
former Hong Kong Gov. Chris Patten that was critical of the Chinese leadership,
which was to have been published by his HarperCollins unit. And he gave a huge
contract to Deng Xiaoping's daughter for a fawning and historically problematic
portrait of her father while Murdoch was looking to expand his broadcasting
operations in China. Contrast that with Time Warner's Gerald Levin, who may have
been a bit sycophantic in toasting President Jiang Zemin's ability to recite the
Gettysburg Address from memory, but whose own Time magazine was simultaneously
banned from Chinese newsstands for essays by the Dalai Lama and prominent
The rapid consolidation of journalism under a small group of titans such as
Redstone, Murdoch and Levin makes it that much more urgent to watch their
pronouncements and respond with vigor. Yet the media, so eager to criticize
Chinese influence with American politicians, have failed to cover the Chinese
leadership's sway over their own bosses.
If it's not the job of the media to expose misdeeds and atrocities in China and
elsewhere, whose job is it? If journalists are afraid of offending tyrants, what
then is their purpose? It may not be possible to prevent the increasing
domination of journalism by those with little love for the 1st Amendment, but we
don't need to make life easy for them.