As you probably already know, National Geographic and Fox recently announced “expanding their partnership”, which so far only involved the National Geographic television channels, to create a new for-profit entity named National Geographic Partners, which will operate all of National Geographic’s “media and consumer-oriented assets”, the list including the television channels, as well as “magazines, National Geographic Studios, related digital and social media platforms, books, maps, children’s media, and ancillary activities, including travel, location-based entertainment, archival sales, catalog, licensing and ecommerce businesses”. In other words, pretty much everything the public will see, know or otherwise experience related to National Geographic will be controlled by Fox. To say that this is worrying would be an understatement.
Under the deal, which is said to have been valued at $725 million, Fox will own 73% of the new entity, though it is said that the two parties will be equally represented on the Board of Directors, while “the Board Chair will alternate annually, with Gary Knell, National Geographic Society President and CEO, serving as the Board’s first Chairman”. In other words, Fox may try to ease people into it, letting things keep going more or less as they are for the first year, then take over more noticeably once most people have forgotten about it and won’t be paying as much attention anymore, because it’s quite obvious they didn’t spend $725 million to own 73% of something and then not have ways to ensure that all decisions go their way, despite this little public relations trick of having an equal number of members from each side on the Board.
The first problem with that is, of course, the very fact that all those elements of a non-profit entity are now becoming a for-profit business, which will in itself greatly harm the direction, value and quality of the content, because people just aren’t watching the quality science programs anymore. While it so far remains a channel that those of us who found ourselves thrown out of Discovery‘s target audience years ago can still sometimes watch, signs of this can be noticed on National Geographic Channel and it’s quite obvious that things will only get worse, probably with Discovery being a sign of what’s to come instead of something to avoid at all costs. So expanding this to all National Geographic media and other assets and actually giving Fox control already paints a grim picture of the future.
But the other problem is likely the worst one, and I’m referring to the fact that Fox is known for its stance of denying climate change and generally being anti-environment, possibly even anti-science, and pushing forward a conservative right-wing agenda. Its Board of Directors includes, among others, a former director of metals and mining corporation Rio Tinto and the current Chairman of multinational mining and petroleum company BHP Bilton. Not that National Geographic didn’t already give serious reasons for concern, of course, for example when the message of a fair number of its articles about population was that it’s not in itself a problem and technology, development and, perhaps even more concerning, increased urbanization will eventually solve all issues it creates, or when genetically modified organisms were presented in a largely positive light on more than one occasion, but such a partnership makes it nearly a certainty that National Geographic will start being used to push forward an agenda that’s vastly different from what its stated mission is and pretty much the complete opposite of what it should be.
I’m not sure what the best course of action would be at this point, as the deal is done, but Climate Truth launched a petition asking the Board of Directors to “adopt policies that ensure editorial independence at all National Geographic properties, including appointment of a Public Editor to investigate complaints or editorial interference”. It seems far too little for me, but, once again, I’m not sure what the better move would be and at this point I doubt I’d consider anything as being sufficient, as having Fox control National Geographic and turning it into a for-profit business is completely unacceptable in itself, regardless of any assurances, guarantees or measures taken. In my view, the fact that, with the exception of the television channels, they had so far remained a largely independent non-profit was one of the main reasons why they had largely avoided joining others in this race to the bottom.
Should probably mention that I found another petition as well, started by someone on Care2‘s Petition Site and aiming “to shame the formerly non-profit National Geographic Society for selling out to a right wing propagandist” and seeking “a congressional champion” to “find a way to reinstate some of the old principles of diversity of broadcast ownership”. Doesn’t seem that many people know this exists, however, and extremely few have signed it, but the way it’s written makes it somewhat understandable, though a small edit actually improved it compared to what I saw when I first found it, by clarifying the target.
Otherwise, some are obviously suggesting boycotts, and that may in theory be quite effective once it’ll truly become a for-profit entity, but I’m once again highly uncertain, because it’s quite obvious that diminishing income was a large part of the reason behind this deal. In addition, a boycott at this moment will likely be too soon, as those changes aren’t implemented yet and the results won’t be reflected in the reports likely to have the greatest impact. Instead, such a move will likely cause a part of National Geographic’s core audience, as in the people who don’t want it to become what it’s likely to become now, to break ties with it and therefore no longer be in a position to react once noticeable changes will actually start being made. As such, this would actually make it easier for the target audience to be changed in ways that will make the new entity’s products more appealing for the masses, which will result in increased income, less oversight and greater ability to manipulate more people according to the interests of the new owners, so the exact opposite of what we should be aiming for.