Not satisfied with his dominance in print and online news, Murdoch is planning to re-enter the UK television market. But unlike his last attempt to buyout Sky, this time there’s no one stopping him. We need an urgent Parliamentary commission to protect our news media from oligarch and monopoly control.
A free, diverse and independent media is vital to the functioning of any democratic society. But the British media landscape is increasingly dominated by a small number of corporations and very wealthy individuals. Over half of leading daily newspapers in the UK are now controlled by two billionaires. These titles also lead the pack in both online audience share and agenda influence, including over the BBC.
In 2012, Lord Justice Leveson warned that “Not only are the press powerful lobbyists in their own interests, but they wield a powerful megaphone with considerable influence over the personal and political reputation of politicians. They are also highly skilled, at the level of some proprietors, editors and senior executives, at subtle and intuitive lobbying in the context of personal relationships and friendships”.
Last year, research found that Murdoch and his senior executives continued to enjoy unrivalled access to government, meeting with senior ministers and officials over 200 times over a period of 24 months.
In 2018, the Competition and Markets Authority advised the government against allowing Murdoch to gain control over Sky News, citing threats to the public interest over media plurality. Instead, Murdoch has now invested in a new UK television news channel, allowing him to enter the UK television news market without regulatory scrutiny.
This move exposes the reality that Britain’s current media ownership rules are inadequate and not fit for purpose. The previous Tory government agreed with this: endorsing a recommendation by OFCOM and a House of Lords Select Committee to carry out periodic reviews of media plurality to ensure that the UK’s news landscape is sufficiently diverse and democratic.
But nothing happened. It got kicked into the long grass and now Murdoch is planning to gain yet another foothold on the UK media, notwithstanding rampant criminality exposed in his newsrooms and the explicit hard right political leanings of most news outlets under his control.
That is why we are calling for Parliament to establish a new commission on media ownership, as it did for banking standards in 2012. Such a commission should have the powers to investigate the full spectrum of issues associated with media dominance, including both the power wielded by tech monopolies and the particular influence of Rupert Murdoch over British media and politics, and it should aim to produce a framework for regulating media ownership that is fit for the 21st century.
Today we are calling on Parliament to establish a new independent commission into broadcasting standards