UK media ownership and reach

Much has been said and written about the role and reach in British politics of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation and its UK subsidiary, News International. A constant issue of controversy among pundits and politicians since he first bought into the British press in the 1960s, Murdoch has himself become the headline story. After the ‘phone-hacking’ scandal at the News of the World, the country’s most-read Sunday paper, broke in July, the full extent of Murdoch’s influence became clearer. 

“A state within a state” is how a leading British commentator, Will Hutton, now describes News Corporation. An Australian columnist, Tom Pearson, has written: “The enormous amount of personal information gained on celebrities, politicians, police and others through hacking not only served to boost circulation with ‘scoops’ but also provided dirt which could be used for other purposes. The power of a media monopoly to make or break governments [and] discredit officers in public positions reeks more of corruption than democracy.” 

Rupert Murdoch’s first reaction to the public disgust at the extent of the phone-hacking practice, and its persistent use in the midst of serious criminal investigations by the police, was to order the immediate closure of the News of the World. 

Over the following days, the close links between senior News International staff and Britain’s leading politicians – and its top police officers – were laid bare as a parliamentary committee ordered Murdoch and other executives to appear before it for questioning. Two leading police officers quickly resigned over their associations with the Murdoch press. There was embarrassment too for Prime Minister David Cameron, who had come into office in 2010 with former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his communications director. Murdoch and News Corporation executives were seen to have held frequent meetings with senior ministers. 

These revelations raise many issues, and various official inquiries will produce further insights and conclusions. An obvious and overriding concern has been the ability of one long-standing media owner to exert such influence over both public officials and public opinion through a concentration of ownership and a particularly aggressive style of journalism. 

Murdoch believes in what he calls “animal capitalism” and he has shown a clear determination to be a market leader in all his endeavours – across many countries. His organisation’s leading position in the British press is clear from the figures assembled by the communications industry regulator Ofcom. Murdoch’s position in television is not so clearly dominant, but the Sky broadcasting group, in which News Corporation currently holds a minority position, does exercise an effective monopoly of the immensely lucrative ‘pay TV’ sector. Sky’s financial clout allows it to outbid its rivals for the rights to numerous popular TV shows and sports events. 

Ofcom’s media ownership rules are designed to strike “a balance between ensuring a degree of plurality on the one hand and providing freedom to companies to expand, innovate and invest on the other”. Last year Ofcom reported on the effects of News Corporation’s plan to acquire 100 percent of the shares of the Sky broadcasting group and said that the change would reduce the number of persons with control of media enterprises with Sky ceasing to be a distinct media enterprise. It recommended a fuller second stage review by the Competition Commission to assess the extent to which the concentration in media ownership might act against the public interest.


Post a comment

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Amnesty International