(Cross posted, with thanks, from The Bristol Cable.)
In his statement to the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices, and ethics of the press that followed the phone hacking scandal in 2011, the Sun’s associate editor Trevor Kavanagh (a former Bristol Post journalist) described news as being “as saleable a commodity” as any other.
“Newspapers are commercial, competitive businesses, not a public service,” he said.
That Kavanagh got away with denying any accountability to the public for the output of the country’s most widely read national paper under oath, and on public record, is even more depressing when you consider he wasn’t the only one shirking responsibility – and that very little has come of such admissions made during Leveson.
I don’t agree with the sentiment of Kavanagh’s statement. But it offers a handy springboard for discussing the fact that he was essentially correct.
We might talk of the ‘democratisation of the media’, but the industry more broadly is dominated by business, not public, interests.
You could argue that local media offers an antidote to globalised media. Yet in the wake of the switch to free online engagement, print circulation and staffing levels of local papers are in steep decline. Papers’ continued existence hinges on whoever’s holding the purse-strings – and the puppet-strings.
The same media conglomerates that own the national dailies dominate the UK’s local news. In 2012 The Bristol Post, along with around 100 other local titles and 70 news websites, was sold by the Daily Mail group (DMGT) to Local World for £53m (and a 39% stake in Local World for DMGT.)
Just four companies – Johnston Press, Trinity Mirror, Newsquest and the Daily Mail and General Trust – have a 70% market share of local news. Each has its its own regional monopoly.
Research published by the Media Reform Coalition (MRC) revealed that, in 2013, 70% of news consumed online was provided by just five corporations. In print, meanwhile, according to the MRC: “Just three companies control nearly 70% of national newspaper circulation – Rupert Murdoch’s News UK; DMGT, chaired by Jonathan Harmsworth, 4th Viscount Rothermere; and Trinity Mirror.”
This means many of the key information channels controlling what people get to find out about their society, and therefore the contexts in which they understand the world, are shaped by a handful of rich, white billionaires. That clique represents, of course, a true ‘minority’ – though you’re unlikely to see their legitimacy as hard-working British citizens being questioned in the Mail.
In the run-up to the general election on May 7th the MRC have launched a campaign for media reform. (Subsequent to Lord Justice Leveson’s report on the inquiry into press standards calling for a new system of self-regulation, the industry simply ignored the non-legally-binding recommendations.) During April, the groups making up the MRC will be calling on all political parties to commit to five proposals for media reform to tackle the crises of media ownership, regulation, and accuracy.