Press Freedom goes beyond ensuring that any regulatory framework is completely independent of Government (and of course the Leveson proposals fully meet that requirement). It is also about protecting the media market from monopolistic control.
Hacked Off is supporting a Europe-wide petition calling on the EU to produce a Directive (EU legislation) to prevent the concentration of media ownership in the hands of a few press barons. We’re asking you to support it too.
Murdoch has been thwarted, for now, in his US$80bn takeover bid for Time Warner. Success would have resulted in a massive Murdoch-run conglomerate with control of two major Hollywood studios and 25% of the US box office, hugely popular satellite and cable networks including HBO (home of Game of Thrones), Fox News, CNN and TNT as well as his newspaper, publishing and online empire.
Murdoch will not walk away quietly. To help finance his bid, and to consolidate his European satellite interests, he has just agreed to sell his holdings in Sky Italia and Sky Deutschland to BSkyB. But he still owns 39% of BSkyB shares (giving him effective control) and would have owned the whole company if the hacking scandal had not prevented the deal from being finalised at the last minute. At some point, he is very likely to renew that bid for 100% ownership of BSkyB and its subsidiaries in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria and Italy.
As Professor of Communications (and Hacked Off board member) Steve Barnett noted:
“Neither phone hacking nor the police connivance, nor the many other non-criminal journalistic abuses – intrusions into personal grief, data mining, distortion of facts – could have happened without the untrammelled power of private media corporations in general and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation in particular.”
In the UK just three companies, Rupert Murdoch’s News UK, Daily Mail & General Trust and Trinity Mirror, own 70% of our newspapers. Even if you don’t regularly read a newspaper, they still set the TV, radio and online news agenda. It’s only slightly better online – with five companies controlling 70% of online news. And if you’re listening to the radio you are either getting your news from the BBC or from Sky which provides the news to nearly every commercial radio station.
This level of control leads to vast levels of influence. As we saw repeatedly during the Leveson Inquiry there is a deeply unhealthy relationship – borne of the power of the big press owners and their editors – between the press, the most senior politicians and often the police. It is bad for the public and for democracy. It skews political debate and drives politicians to support policies and take up issues which suit the corporate interests of media owners and the politicians who back them.
Professor Des Freedman, one of the founders of the Coalition for Media Pluralism, believes we need legislation aimed specifically at stopping a few media moguls from owning too much of our media. He states;
“Two weeks ago Murdoch tweeted that only ‘cross-ownership laws from another age’ prevented him from buying the LA Times and Tribune titles in the US. Which is why we need tighter laws at home to curb media giants from doing deal after deal to expand their empires and replaces them with a range of independent and diverse voices.”
Any new law will also protect media plurality against domination by Government ownership. The history of Italian media shows how important that is.
This petition, a European citizen’s Initiative, needs a million signatures across Europe by 17 August. If we get that the European Commission must respond – hopefully with a proposal to change European law. Ultimately, the European aim must be to prevent the concentration of media and advertising ownership and prevent media moguls occupying high political office (which they openly do in Italy and Bulgaria). We might not be able to decide whether Murdoch eventually manages to buy Time Warner but we can act to prevent how much control he has here in the UK and Europe. You can read more on Coalition for Media Pluralism and their stark infographic on who owns the media.
A word of warning. This is an official EU petition. The language is not snappy. It requires persistence in form filling (in other EU countries it requires national ID info). But please stick with it because your signature will count. It could lead to a law that prevents Murdoch and others controlling our media and believing that they can undermine the police, and bully or corrupt politicians or break the law with impunity.
Dr Evan Harris is the the Associate Director of Hacked Off