Six speakers took but ten minutes to say their piece at the Media Reform Rally on Monday 17th June. Despite the time restraint, each of the speakers delivered a strong, individual assault on the changes that need to happen to restore faith, democracy and integrity to the British Press and take it out of the hands of an elite handful. So much was said, we’ll have to do this over two posts. Here’s some of what we heard:
Up first was Murat Akser from Kadir Has University in Istanbul, who spoke about the absence of media independence in Turkey:
Why isn’t the mainstream media reporting these events? First of all, because of big business interests integrated with the media. All big corporations who own banks and have big interests own the media outlets in Turkey at the moment. It’s not even horizontal integration anymore, because the same corporation can own the same type of media outlet in Turkey, like 5 TV channels, 4 national newspapers, 20 radios owned by the same company. Sometimes they have the very same news in the same order.
Editorial [begins] at the very top level. Which means the owners of big corporations that can cost billions of dollars, personally read editorials and sign what is to be printed and what is to be broadcast.
We are dealing with a media autocracy where the state and the government controls the news, with complacent media owners.
It’s happening right now. Editorials are being controlled everyday.
Turkey now has the most number of reporters arrested in the world. Now why is that important? Because we are not talking about a dictatorship or a terror state. We are dealing with a place that prides itself on being a democracy for the last 67 years.
But, what I am trying to say is that this is changing. There are new ways of reporting incidents from the field. All these young people who are out there resisting are actually fighting against this conglomerate pressure.
Because the first reaction those people did was walk in front of these building or big media monopolies and shout ‘free the news’. And now they are freeing the news. There are people out there, everyone with a cell phone, iphone or screens – now they cannot control the news. The media is going to be ours once again. This is the way of the future. And I’m hoping that this media autocracy will end because there are not now many reporters left to be arrested.
Lets get our media back to our own hands. Each of us are reporters. Each of us can go out there, actively, and report on anything we see fit, and if those media outlets cannot do it. We will do it.
Murat Akser, Kadir Has University, Istanbul
A free media is essential to a democracy. It just doesn’t work without it. People need to hear a range of arguments, they need equal access to information and opinion. Evidence shows repeatedly, that countries with a large number of news anchors and an independent media are less susceptible to corruption by politicians and business. That’s why the question of who owns the press is so vital.
The NUJ was a core participant at the Leveson inquiry, and this investigation into the culture and practices of the press really lifted the lid on how widespread unethical and illegal practices had been in the industry. It also demonstrated how the relations of politicians, the press and the police were corrupted by the instance of one man owning 37% of the newspaper market. And with that power comes arrogance amongst his own newspaper executives, who had really, genuinely seemed to believe they had become untouchable.
It was really interesting to see politicians turn up at Leveson and unburden themselves, and by their own admission have become too craven to take on the Murdoch press. They feared that they’d be pursued personally or that their party’s policies would be savaged. Prime Minister after Prime Minister felt they had to pay homage at the court of Rupert.
They meet up in Mayfair clubs with promises of being backed by the Murdoch press at the next election. One of them even became godfather to the press’s own daughter. Likewise with the police, particularly the Metropolitan police, an unhealthy relationship developed between them and News International.
And Rupert Murdoch has long maintained that he doesn’t dictate any editorial line in his newspapers. And I’d ask just one question, if that’s the case then why did all but one of his 175 newspapers around the world have the same pro war line on Iraq.
John Major was told by the media mogul that he’d withdraw his support in his newspapers unless government changed their policy on the UK’s membership of the EU. This is the kind of practical way in which the power of one man influenced the decisions of our press here in the UK.
Michelle Stanistreet, General Secretary, National Union of Journalists
Today, 6 out of the 7 biggest national newspapers in this country by circulation peddle a conservative, neo-liberal right-wing agenda. For two decades, progressive politics has had no choice and no voice.
But it’s not just Murdoch and it’s not just about the tabloids. The Russian billionaire owner of The Independent and the Evening Standard wrote the following tweet after giving testimony at the Leveson inquiry:
“Forgot to tell Leveson that it’s unreasonable to expect individuals to spend millions of pounds on newspapers and not have access to politicians.”
Fascinating use of the word unreasonable here. Maybe Mr. Lebedev hasn’t quite mastered the British way of not being completely upfront about corruption in politics.
In particular though, this tweet reveals two things. First, the financial struggles in which all newspapers are embroiled is no reason not to regulate ownership. If anything, they have opened the door to a new class of media moguls who are quite willing to use newspapers not for their commercial value but for their political clap. Make no mistake, despite dwindling profits, newspapers are more relevant today than ever. Most of the biggest titles are reaching more audiences than they ever have before, courtesy of their online editions, and they still play a mean role in the news agenda.
The second insight revealed by this tweet is that newspaper owners have simply come to expect that their investment in news ought to pay off in political input. This is the type of sleaze culture that is far more insidious and far reaching than Cash For Questions or any of the networks of corruption that have undermined British democracy and faith in the three key P’s; politicians, police and press.
If you change the dynamics for ownership you may just change the culture that draws red lines for journalists as much as it does for politicians. In particular, ownership reform could ensure that the most powerful owners of the media are kept at arms-length from the content of their allies. A journalism that is less direct is surely one that is more searching, more questioning more scrutinising. And if accompanied by a new and effective means of funding, it could provide meaningful support for real journalism – safe from the trappings and pressures of corporate media.
We need ownership reform now because trust in the integrity of our most sacred institutions is at an all time low. Because the existing plurality regime has proved entirely unfit for purpose. In our increasingly mobile, technologically dependent and work centred lifestyle, the media, and indeed the mainstream media, have become essential ways to convene and converse as citizens in a democracy. For too long we’ve allowed that space to be annexed by narrow corporate interests serving shareholders and moguls over citizens and public. We ought to reclaim that space, we need to reclaim it and we need to do it now.
Justin Schlosberg, Media Reform Coalition
Catch more of what we heard at the Media Reform Rally tomorrow.
by Kam Sandhu – @KamBass