Real press reform would look at who owns our media


On Friday parliament agreed to introduce what is effectively state regulation of the press – albeit via royal charter. It’s also been reported today that two journalists from the Sun will be charged over the theft of an MP’s mobile phone in 2010.

The pressThis is the result of the long drawn-out Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press.

If you listen to Hacked off, we require greater regulation because the newspapers are out of control – bullying, harassing and toxifying British political life with their relentless smears and sensationalism.

For opponents of press regulation, however, the free press is a cornerstone of our democracy; and besides, wasn’t phone hacking already illegal? Why not just enforce existing legislation instead of bringing in more?

Disappointingly, both sides of the debate – and the Leveson report itself – completely ignored a bigger issue – who owns the press, and who, ultimately, decides what gets printed.

Despite all the talk of a ‘free’ press by both sides of the debate, newspaper ownership in Britain is largely feudal and undemocratic.

You may think that this is unimportant, but it has had an undeniable impact on our national conversation and, as a result, the democratic process. As Hannen Swaffer, one of the early 20th century pioneers of British tabloid journalism, phrased it, “freedom of the press in Britain is the freedom to print such of the proprietor’s prejudices as the advertisers don’t object to”.

Sometimes this is shockingly apparent. Tony Blair’s former special advisor Lance Price even wrote in his memoirs that Mr Murdoch was the “third person to be consulted on every major decision” during Blair’s time in office.

Who voted for this, exactly?

As it stands 52.2 per cent of our printed press is controlled by two billionaires and 77.8 per cent is controlled by six billionaires.

None of us voted for Rupert Murdoch, Paul Dacre or the Barclay brothers and yet we persist in allowing much of our national conversation to be defined by this small pool of people.

There is strong public support for a more democratic media which politicians have up to now shown no appetite to tap in to. Around three quarters of respondents quizzed in an IPPR poll last year supported limits on the overall proportion of the UK media a single person or company can own, with three quarters (76 per cent) wanting fixed limits on newspaper ownership.

62 per cent of people wanted the number of newspapers a single owner can own to be two or less.

A more democratic media would lead to a greater degree of plurality and eventually, one would hope, a lot less immigrant baiting and celebrity gossip. So why aren’t we talking about this, rather than attempting to bring in more regulation to control things which were illegal anyway?

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  • guidofawkes

    Lefties always claim “we” own nationalised industries, so given the BBC controls 43% of news output it would be consistent for the left to say “we” own the news.

  • Anthony Masters

    The author states that Britain needs a “more democratic” media without explaining what is meant by this. A greater number of proprietors would not mean the media was “more democratic”, since democracy is rule by the population.
    Freedom of the press means the ability to publish without government permission or fear of criminal consequences. Ownership is a separate issue to press freedom. The assertion that a “largely feudal and undemocratic” newspaper ownership makes the press less free is nonsensical.

  • Selohesra

    Newspapers are dying so why worry – real concern is TV/radio and the concentration of that news market in the broadcasting arm of the Labour Party – aka BBC

  • Selohesra

    Newspapers are dying so why worry – real concern is TV/radio and the concentration of that news market in the broadcasting arm of the Labour Party – aka BBC

  • Cole

    The BBC Trust boss is the ex chair of the Conservative Party, The Beeb’s chief political guy Nick Robinson is a Tory, then there’s Jeremy Clarkson…

    Some people won’t be satisfied until the BBC is spouting full time right wing propaganda. Which is, of course, what they want.

  • Cole

    The BBC Trust boss is the ex chair of the Conservative Party, The Beeb’s chief political guy Nick Robinson is a Tory, then there’s Jeremy Clarkson…

    Some people won’t be satisfied until the BBC is spouting full time right wing propaganda. Which is, of course, what they want.

  • Cole

    ‘We’ being the people, not the left. As opposed to tax dodgers and foreigners who own most of the rest.

  • Selohesra

    Evan Davis, James (when we win the next election) Naughtie, Victoria Derbyshire, Nikki Campbell – all openly display their pro-Labour views. We can all name a few biased people to support our view although if you think Patten a good example of a right wing politician then you really must be struggling. Rather than pick on individuals look at the output – anticuts (even before there were any) pro EU, anti any challange to climate change orthodoxy, anti Israel (admittedly that may not be left/right issue but still bias and abuse of their monopoly.)

  • http://truenewsuk.blogspot.com/ sarntcrip

    that must be why the trust is run by a tory and close friend of the pme political editor is a formerleader of the young tories and oxford uni tory associationthe evidence flies in the face of the ludicrous assertion fromSelohesra

  • http://truenewsuk.blogspot.com/ sarntcrip

    it is in fact what spouting verbatim tory central office press releases amounts to

  • Selohesra

    I refer you to my previous reply to Cole – just because you both make the same point does not make it any more valid

  • http://truenewsuk.blogspot.com/ sarntcrip

    the bbc is one uk broadcasting company much of te bias comes as it does with the likes of skyfrom the factthey are paid so much money and are biased towards the politics shich suggests tey’ll pay less tax

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