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James Murdoch on Media in 2016

Dec 21, 2015

We have examples of transformative storytelling all around us.

In the U.S. and elsewhere, advocates for same-sex marriage told deeply personal stories of the bond between human beings, setting the stage for legal and legislative victories celebrated under the banner “love wins.”

The TV news series Satyamev Jayate (Truth Alone Prevails), hosted by the Bollywood star Aamir Khan, has proved to be a phenomenon in India. It has moved a nation and is credited with changing laws through its sensitive yet unflinching treatment of some of that country’s most entrenched taboos, from female infanticide to official corruption.

Years before the election of President Barack Obama, tens of millions of Americans experienced their first black President on the thriller 24. They challenged their preconceptions about same-sex couples through Modern Family and grappled with the paradoxes of the war on drugs by watching The Wire.

Storytelling isn’t always positive. In the midst of the chaos of Iraq and Syria, ISIS masterfully tells its story of blood-soaked vengeance against supposed oppressors in their own lands and those from the West. Its stories sow the seeds of unspeakable atrocities from Raqqa to Paris.

Entrenched and compromised interests spin the fiction that science is more divided than united, and they sow seeds of uncertainty on issues of unquestionable priority: namely, the survival of our species on this planet.

Political hopefuls, for high office and otherwise, create elaborate narratives that they themselves don’t believe.

Stories matter.

In 2016 and beyond, those who wish to create a better world will have to make storytelling the center of their efforts, not an afterthought. It’s clear that economic and military might will always be the key levers of statecraft. But more than ever before, swift and dramatic change is being driven by powerful narratives that crisscross the world at the speed of a click or a swipe.

Underlying this change is the empowerment of ordinary people: citizens, mothers, sons, all of us. Once, consumers had limited points of access to information and content, and powerful state and commercial institutions guarded the gates. That time is over.

In 2016, from Lhasa to Tehran to Odessa, people will continue to seek and find forbidden things. In this connected world, the game is up. Censors cannot hide, and their victims have decided, and are empowered, not to take it anymore. Italo Calvino had it right in If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler: “In the decree that forbids reading there will be still read something of the truth that we would wish never to be read.”

As the example of ISIS proves, the state’s loss of control of narrative is not an unequivocal blessing. But it shouldn’t be feared. We should embrace the clash of narratives in a free and ungovernable global conversation. Over the next 12 months, this duel will be joined—and the outcome is unfortunately up in the air.

We will have to see if 2016 will be a year in which stories of anger, grievance, resentment and scapegoating of the “other” are ascendant, or whether stories of the power of love, empathy and hope for a better future rule the day.

All sides will have generally equal access to the tools and platforms needed to tell their stories. People themselves will ultimately decide the winners and losers. In this age of narrative, the stakes have never been higher.

Murdoch is the CEO of 21st Century Fox

This appears in the December 28, 2015 issue of TIME.

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