DICTATORSHIP IN BLACK AND WHITE
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What does it mean to have a ‘free’ media when the nation’s TV channels, news outlets, radio stations, search engines and social media platforms are owned by a handful of giant corporations?
What does it mean to have ‘independent media’ when many of our most influential media organisations are controlled by individuals and Boards that are so closely connected with vested interests?
This short report shows that just three companies dominate 71% of the British newspaper market. The market is shrinking but is still crucial when it comes to setting the agenda for the rest of the news media.
When online readers are included, just five companies dominate some 80% of the market share. In the area of local news, six giant conglomerates account for 80% of all titles while the 50-plus publishers have less than 20% of the remaining titles.
We are facing an increasing number of news deserts given the fact that 36 million UK citizens, some 57% of the total population, do not have a local daily paper that is able to dedicate itself to matters of concern to their community.
Sky, effectively controlled by Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox empire, is by far the UK’s biggest broadcaster and continues to dominate the pay-TV landscape.
ITV is making huge profits on the back of its format sales and faces fewer and fewer obligations to serve domestic audiences. Meanwhile, Channel 5 is already owned by a US giant, Viacom International, and there are constant rumours that the government is keen to sell off Channel 4 to the highest bidder.
Two companies have nearly 40% of all commercial local analogue radio licences and control two-thirds of all commercial digital stations. Only 14% of non-BBC stations are now independently owned while radio news is provided either by the BBC or by Sky.
Is the internet any different? UK search is overwhelmingly dominated by Google while the most popular apps like Instagram and Whatsapp are owned by Facebook, itself by far the most popular social media site.
The BBC remains a powerful presence in broadcasting and online but its budget has been severely cut by the last two licence fee deals, its independence has been undermined, and it is increasingly being told by the government to be mindful of its impact on the wider commercial market.
We believe that concentration within news and information markets, in particular, has reached widespread levels in the UK and that we urgently need effective remedies.
This kind of concentration creates conditions in which wealthy individuals and organisations can amass huge political and economic power and distort the media landscape to suit their interests and personal views.
Urgent reform is needed in order both to address high levels of concentration in particular media markets and to protect against further concentration in others.
We hope that this report will provide data and arguments that will be useful to groups and individuals who want to see a far more pluralistic media structure in which a genuine diversity of views, voices and opinions are aired.
Market Share by Circulation (ABC) Between 2014 and 2015 there was little structural change in the UK’s national newspaper market. However, this lack of structural change means that there is still a very high degree of concentration in the national newspaper market. Britain’s national newspapers, covering a domestic audience of approximately 63 million people, are owned by eight companies, and, by circulation alone, four of those companies account for over 80% of all copies sold.
The levels of concentration revealed in this report demonstrate that we need action that will challenge media power and the influence that flows from it.
There is a long-established policy principle in the UK that public responsibilities should be attached to significant media power. Up to now, this principle has been invoked in respect of broadcasting but as media markets and services converge, it is increasingly applicable to other platforms.
There is a need to ensure that dominant media groups that are not currently subject to public service regulation are nevertheless held accountable to the public interest.
It is time for an open and honest debate about the impact of media concentration on our democracy and our wider culture. The Media Reform Coalition (https://www.mediareform.org.uk/ )believes that media plurality is not a luxury in the digital age but an essential part of a media system in which vested interests are not allowed to dominate.
We want to see independent media that are able to hold power to account and to serve their audiences and the public in general as opposed to shareholders, proprietors or politicians.
In order to achieve this, we may well need a system of clear ownerships thresholds so that no individual or entity has a controlling share in an organisation that has a dominant share of any news market.
Remedies should also ensure journalist and editorial autonomy particularly in the largest organisations so that owners and shareholders cannot exert undue influence over news output.
If we want to see elections and referenda, as well as economic debates and military interventions, covered in a way that does not favour the most powerful voices or the status quo, then we need to change media ownership rules.
If we want to lay the foundations for a media that represents the full diversity of the UK population, in relation to its opinions, its make-up, its communities and indeed its constituent nations, then we need to take action to curb media power. Source https://www.mediareform.org.uk/
MICHAEL WALSH is a worldwide journalist, broadcaster and author of 64 book titles with 36 years experience. Like other journalists of integrity, he no longer writes for corporate media, opting instead for true journalism.
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