Around 78% of British press is owned by a few wealthy men. The power of these men and their companies is often considered more than that of our politicians and MPs. And, while we continue to allow such influence and concentration of ownership over our media, our press can never really be that free.
The ability for our newspapers to have their own political stance has been seen by many as important to the democracy of Britain. However, when this is complicated by cross-paper and cross-media ownership this viewpoint becomes muddied. What are the costs of this influence and how does it translate into a new currency of power in politics?
One of the clearest examples of this happened when the perhaps the most prolific of media moguls, Rupert Murdoch, bypassed a referral to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission to take over The Times and The Sunday Times in the early eighties. He already owned The Sun and The News Of The World. In an apparent back-scratching deal with the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Murdoch was able to control more of the British Press in exchange for favourable coverage and leniency to the Tory policies within the pages of his new purchases. Former editor of The Sunday Times, Harold Evans commented:
“A newspaper merger unprecedented in history went through in three days.”
So what prompts politicians to go through with such exchanges?
Good press and reach. It seems being portrayed well is just as important, if not more than being right, good, electable and strong.
Rupert Murdoch, for example, has the ability to push a political stance across several media platforms including TV, print, online through some of the most popular channels in Britain, with an ability to reach millions everyday, in our homes, on our way to work, on our mobiles. Repeated bashing of an opposition, for all things from their spelling to their appearance and (sometimes) their politics will eventually grind on the audience’s ideas. Particularly when coupled with an obvious general lathering of support for the party they are immediately in bed with.
Further, moguls like Murdoch have the ability to cover losses and damage to its own profits and publications. Take for example, the closing of the News Of The World after 168 years. Rightly so most would believe, in the light of a phone hacking scandal that saw so-called journalists hacking the devices of celebrities and members of the public who had been part of large-scale stories including the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
However, the gap left in News International profits was filled but months later by The Sun on Sunday. Same owner, same company, a lot of the same staff, which leaves the thought, did Murdoch really pay for the mistakes of the infamous NOTW’s culture, or did The Sun on Sunday actually give him the chance to reinvent and package the same thing without any real damage?
This is why we need more plurality in our media ownership. Use and abuse of wealth, politics and public influence has clearly happened so far without it, in a press that is dictated by a few men, their greed and a government minister’s want to please them.
And it is the effects of this media on us as the public that is most threatening. Trust is put into these publications and forms of information, and their leniency in showing and hiding things that flow with their own agendas can be most damaging to our decisions, opinions and thoughts, as this passage from opendemocracy.net explains:
“At the moment a combination of market-driven and public service institutions provides us with the information on which we base our public decision-making. The collective record of these institutions has in recent times been wholly inadequate. We have been profoundly misinformed about the stability of the financial system and the political economy it underwrites, about the threat posed by dictators in faraway countries, about the nature and significance of international terrorism, and about the role our countries play in the wider world.
Again and again our common sense, the shared stock of descriptions and assumptions offered by the major media, has turned out to be a kind of daydream. Sometimes leaks of official information disabuse us. More often reality collides with our carefully fostered illusions.”
The Leveson Inquiry has been a huge eye-opener to the practices of some media. But it’s clear that there needs to be strong reform to prevent the smokescreen that hid the acts of so many journalists (if you can call them that), authorities and public authority figures.
We recently found out about the Media Reform Coalition, who are holding a rally on 17th June to take back OUR media, and instill a trust between the public and journalism to perform the job of holding the governments and authoritites to account, to act in the interest of the public and inform the public instead of massage the deals of wealthy men and politicians.
Find out more about the Media Reform Organisation here.