The Sun and Labour: Who gets hurt the most?

How best should the Labour party respond to its jilting by the Sun.

The Sun’s abandonment of Labour has been addressed in different ways by left-leaning bloggers.

Soho Politico sees an opportunity to question what Tory leader David Cameron has offered – and whether the Tories’ willingness to scrap OfCOM and usher in an era of lighter regulation and more Fox News-esque partisan TV is quite English enough for us.

Certainly, it is hard to see this move as an example of News Corporation’s confidence and political competence. It cannot be comfortable for them to read Charlie Beckett, among many others, pointing out that The Sun is not the force it was.

Following James Murdoch’s speech to the Edinburgh Television Festival, the inept way that The Sun switched – not even getting its own story straight in Scotland – will raise further questions among News Corp’s shareholders.

Sadie Smith has a funny post up about how Labour should respond to this ‘jilting’ – should Labour beg The Sun to change its mind, or should the party go all Gloria Gaynor on them?

Sadie neglects to mention the third option, namely to get even and not angry. One possible way of doing this is to follow the advice from Bad Conscience, that Labour has nothing to lose by reawakening the question of media concentration – a long-standing (pre-Blair) obsession of Labour’s.

There are easier, more concrete, opportunities to do this. Last week, Left Foot Forward published a list of the various free-rides that new Labour gave to BSkyB. All of these options could be credibly threatened as pre-election measures. Labour could apply the levy that every other major European Union country does on boxes like the one used for Sky+.

The Government could allow the main TV channels to apply the kind of re-transmission fees that apply in almost every other EU country. There is no reason why BBC, ITV and Channel Four programmes should provide the free carrot that BSkyB get in attracting over £3 billion in subscriptions revenues.

In the 1980s, the UK inserted the words ‘where practicable’ in EU regulations (pdf, p31) that were designed to ensure that future multi-channel broadcasters would make programmes instead of importing content from America.

This qualification was used to excuse BSkyB from the obligations that ensure that other major European broadcasters like Canal+ actually make programmes.

The justification for allowing this exception was that it would stymie new entrants into the market. But as subscriptions now account for more revenue than advertising in UK broadcasting (with BSkyB enjoying a massive monopoly position here) now would be a good moment for a UK regulator to start asking what is practicable, and what is not.

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