Corporate media problems in Britain

This 2014 video is called The Murdoch Empire: Phone Hacking Exposed – The Listening Post (Full).

By Vanessa Baird in England today:

Say ‘no’ to lying, bullying, criminal and monopolising corporate media!

Rupert Murdoch is only part of the problem. Vanessa Baird reports from the Media Democracy Festival in London.

Media outlets that lie, bully and engage in unethical and even criminal activity are about to become even more powerful and less accountable if we don’t act now.

That was the message from the Media Democracy Festival, packed to capacity by media workers and activists at London’s Birkbeck College on Saturday.

A recent survey shows that public trust in the British media has slipped even further. Only politicians now are less trusted. Currently a handful of men own and control most of the British media and this is set to get worse.

An already fragile media democracy faces a set of new and interconnected threats.

First and most immediate, is a bid announced by Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox to buy Britain’s largest broadcaster, Sky, in which it has a large share. Murdoch’s massive media empire already includes News Corp, The Sun and The Times titles in Britain, the Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones and Fox News in the US and a long string of papers in Australia.

Apart from giving Murdoch an even larger share of the market, there are serious doubts as to whether Rupert Murdoch is a ‘fit and proper person’ to take further control of the media. A petition has been launched to stop him.

The billionaire media baron was the first person that Theresa May, on becoming Britain’s Prime Minister, visited in New York. She has also hired Craig Woodhouse, from the Murdoch-owned Sun</a, as her special adviser.

‘If this [Sky] deal goes ahead,’ said Labour MP John McDonnell, ‘it will prove that the intimate relationship between political and media elites has been re-established.’

In spite of declining sales, and the rise of the digital titans, newspapers remain disproportionately influential in shaping public and political opinion. Newspaper journalism is the original source of a large proportion of the stories that are broadcast.

‘These newspapers set the agenda and dominate what circulates online,’ said Natalie Fenton, author of Digital, Political, Radical.

Second, the British government appears to be back-peddling on the recommendations of Lord Justice Leveson to tackle the abusive, unethical and even criminal culture of the British tabloid media – exemplified by the hacking of the phone of murdered teenager, Milly Dowler.

The government was due to implement Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, which has been voted into law with approval of all political parties. This would provide members of the public with a new access to justice when they become victims of abuse by the press. But instead of triggering Section 40, culture secretary Karen Bradley has bowed to pressure from media bosses and put it out to a complex, unnecessary and, some say, ‘deliberately misleading’ process of public consultation. The deadline is 10 January 2017, with the corporate media lobbying hard for its rejection or watering down.

The government also appears to be dragging its feet on the second half of the Leveson Inquiry, which should have started this summer after the last trials into phone hacking and bribery of public officials were concluded. The next stage will examine collusion between police, media and political elites.

More serious wrongdoing (including the conduct of murder inquiries) will come to the surface through this process. ‘It’s not just a case of rogue reporters. No newspaper culture is as criminal as [Britain’s],’ said Peter Jukes author of The Fall of the House of Murdoch.

There are strong incentives for the tabloid media, the Metropolitan police and the government to stall it and work public opinion against the Inquiry on the basis of cost.

Third, corporate media editors are engaged in a campaign to discredit and disable Impress, the independent regulator that recently gained authorization from the Press Regulation Panel. Corporate editors from The Sun, The Daily Mail and others have routinely attacked both the Leveson process and Impress in order, they say, to defend the ‘freedom of the press’ from ‘state interference’.

Commenting on tabloid claims to be defending press freedom, writer Jukes said, ‘Free-speech absolutists often turn out to be Nazis. We have to fight the stupid idea that a “statute” is somehow the same as “the state” and that all law is state control.’

The tabloid editors are urging their readers to, in effect, deny ordinary members of the public access to affordable justice when victimized by a press spreading falsehoods. Impress tries to resolve complaints through arbitration rather than costly court cases, which only super rich individuals or large media corporations can afford.

Via their front organization the News Media Association, the corporate bosses have now launched a judicial review against the approval of Impress.

‘There is no threat to freedom of expression presented by Impress,’ said Brian Cathcart, professor of journalism at Kingston University. ‘The only freedoms that are being challenged are the freedom to bully and to lie.’

Impress is not about censorship but about accountability. It cannot prevent anything being published. But it does hold the media accountable for any lies or inaccuracies it publishes.

The regulator has won the backing of the National Union of Journalists, welcoming the whistleblower provision for reporters pressured by their bosses to act unethically. New Internationalist joined Impress several months ago, on the basis that the media environment is a common good that must be protected, and not just the domain of companies and owners that pollute it with bad practice.

Among the corporate media opposed to Impress is The Guardian – although many of its reporters privately support it, including investigative journalist Nick Davies. The Guardian’s commercial ambition to capture the US market is reckoned to be a major factor in its reluctance to sign up to a British-based regulator, those attending the Media Democracy Festival heard.

The biggest selling media, including The Sun and The Daily Mail, have signed up to an alternative pseudo-regulator – the Independent Press Standard Organisation (IPSO). This toothless, unrecognized body, which is not Leveson-compliant, is set and run by newspaper bosses and editors themselves. It is no better than the defunct Press Complaints Commission it replaces.

IPSO’s effectiveness was on display recently when 400 people complained about Sun columnist Katie Hopkins’ description of immigrants as ‘cockroaches’ – and a further 200,000 signed a petition calling for her to be sacked. IPSO responded by saying that ‘bad taste’ was not within its remit. More than 2,000 complaints about Sun columnist Kelvin McKenzie’s Islamophobic attack on Channel 4 newsreader Fatima Manji for wearing a headscarf, were also dismissed.

The way forward

The aim of the Media Democracy Festival is to build a movement for democratic and accountable media and provide a forum in which media workers and activists can exchange ideas.

If you care about media democracy, here are a few things you can do.

  • Sign this petition to stop Murdoch’s Sky bid.
  • Tell the government to get on with Leveson, including implementing section 40 in full and starting the second part of the inquiry. There’s a handy template here.
  • Write to the editor of the Guardian and urge it to join Impress:
  • Tackle racist and sexist reporting in papers such as The Sun, The Express and The Daily Mail by urging big brands to stop advertising via the Stop Funding Hate Stop Funding Hate | Facebook Lego has scrapped contracts with The Daily Mail thanks to SFH.
  • Call for media reform and caps on concentration of media ownership and to encourage pluralism.
  • Join the call for a levy on digital giants to support new news providers.
  • Support media pluralism from the bottom up too, calling for policies to help smaller, independent media, especially co-operatives.
  • At the festival, New Internationalist was involved in workshops on Real Media Training and on Media Co-ops. The latter featured speakers from The Ferret, Positive News, Bristol Cable, and Sheffield Live as well as New Internationalist, possibly the longest surviving media co-op in Britain.
  • The big challenge, especially for alternative and independent media, is sustainability. Increasingly, the idea of shared ownership is gaining traction, as a means of financing decent, ethical, independent journalism in a hostile landscape.
  • This is the route that New Internationalist will be taking in Spring 2017, when we launch a Community Share Offer. The idea is to expand our co-operative and global justice mission, enabling our readers, collaborators and supporters to invest in a media environment in which they want to live and to become part owners of New Internationalist. You can find out more about this on our ‘Own us’ page.

18 thoughts on “Corporate media problems in Britain

  1. Friday 16th December 2016

    posted by Morning Star in Britain

    THE Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox corporation made a formal £11.7 billion takeover bid for broadcaster Sky yesterday, prompting fears that the right-wing tycoon will tighten his media monopoly.

    The proposal comes five years after Mr Murdoch attempted to take full control of Sky through his News Corporation, a bid which was derailed after the latter company became embroiled in the phone-hacking scandal.

    However, pressure is now piling on Culture Secretary Karen Bradley, who has until Christmas to decide whether to refer the deal to communications regulator Ofcom.

    National Union of Journalists general secretary Michelle Stanistreet called for the deal to be halted until the second part of the Leveson inquiry into media phone-hacking has been held.

    She added: “We need greater plurality in our media, not an ever-further toxic consolidation of power and control.”


  2. Friday 16th December 2016

    posted by Morning Star in Editorial

    GOVERNMENT failure to ask regulator Ofcom to investigate the planned takeover by 21st Century Fox of Sky will confirm Tory deference to Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.

    Murdoch already owns 39 per cent of Sky, as well as the Sun, Times and Sunday Times newspapers.

    Parcelling them up as a job lot for a branch of his US portfolio will concentrate ownership of Britain’s media to an unhealthy degree and place it into overseas ownership.

    Such a scale of foreign influence over media and cultural life would not be permitted in the US.

    Shadow culture, media and sport secretary Tom Watson is right to insist that Culture Secretary Karen Bradley refer the takeover to Ofcom.

    While few people entertain high hopes of the media watchdog growing teeth sharp and strong enough to frighten Murdoch, the longer this dirty deal is in the public domain, the more likely it can be frustrated.

    It beggars belief that Bradley could have the gall to pronounce that there are no public interest concerns over this effort to enhance Murdoch’s influence.

    There must be “fit and proper persons” questions for both Murdoch and his son James Murdoch, who currently combines the posts of Sky chairman and Fox chief executive, which surely raises issues of divided loyalties in the deal.

    Some corporate shareholders have jibbed at the sales price set for Sky shares — roughly what they were worth six months ago — and suggested that nominally independent non-executive directors are anything but.

    More significant yet than corporate efficiency, profits and shareholder dividends are the key issues of diversity and plurality highlighted by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ).

    This is, of course, a rehashed sales plan that had to be put on the back burner in 2011 when the unethical and illegal behaviour of the Murdoch-owned News of the World and other titles shook his brand to the core.

    Who can forget the televised images from the Leveson inquiry into the conduct of the press after revelations that journalists from the Murdoch stable had hacked the voicemail of murdered child Millie Dowler and that this form of telephone interception had become endemic?

    Murdoch senior behaved as though auditioning for lead role in the movie about the Guinness fraud trial, “Ernest Saunders — My Miraculous Recovery from Alzheimers.”

    He remembered nothing, looked vacant and rambled on about experiencing the “most humble day” of his life. Praise the Lord, another miracle was revealed to the world.

    His intellect has returned as sharp as ever and he remains intent on pushing ahead with the absorption at knockdown cost of Sky now that the Tories have put aside their big talk about the need for press regulation before agreeing finally to take no meaningful action.

    NUJ insistence that there must be no go-ahead until part two of the Leveson Inquiry has taken place must be supported.

    David Cameron and his culture secretary John Whittingdale were widely seen as too enmeshed with the Murdoch outfit to act independently.

    This led Theresa May to pledge, on taking office in July, that her administration would put the interests of the people before the powerful.

    Now is her chance. Her government can opt for public scrutiny or private rubber-stamping.

    Ministerial pledges to be “scrupulously fair and impartial” in handling Murdoch’s empire expansion bring no reassurance to anyone fearful of the public interest being lost amid tumultuous demands for the rich and powerful to win more wealth and influence.


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