The problem with mass media monopolies

Following Corbyn spy allegations, our writers discuss the need for media regulation and plurality

Joe Holloran
12th March 2018
Image: Wikimedia Commons

According to a 2015 report from plurality advocacy group the Media Reform Coalition, 70% of all print media circulated in the UK is owned by just three corporations: Trinity Mirror, Daily Mail & General Trust, and Rupert Murdoch’s News UK. That amounts to three companies directing the majority of printed discourse in the UK. Or, perhaps more accurately, this was the case. Whilst it is true that the circulation figures for these papers still number in the millions, and most have adapted well to the digital sphere, their narrative influence is being challenged by the vast expansion of social media.

The proliferation of news on social media is a key topic of debate amongst media and culture scholars, one that I will not delve into here. The battlefield for your eyes, your mind, and potentially your vote has shifted. This is why the recent discussions about the plurality and monopolisation of print media are so important. Take for instance the recent nonsense surrounding the totally fabricated allegations that Jeremy Corbyn was once a USSR spy. This story was printed with absolutely no evidence whatsoever, as it took a one-time meeting decades ago and extrapolated it out into the plot of some shitty James Bond film. I imagine the title reads something like: 'Facts Are Not Enough. From Russia With Thatcher’s Breakfast'. The Times lowered themselves to the level of online conspiracy trolls to further their own political agenda.

The battlefield for your eyes, your mind, and potentially your vote has shifted

This time however, their plan failed. They went too far, were too ridiculous, and accidently sparked a renewed debate about media standards and plurality. Corbyn, whether or not you agree with him politically, was not afraid to stand up to News UK in this instance and call them out on their bullshit. He proclaimed that the story was evidence of the 'media owners' fear of a Labour government'.

Although, one must remember that Corbyn has the forthright backing of Trinity Mirror; one of those monopolies he is attacking, he is still a politician and knows the importance of selecting his moral targets carefully. Still, this whole affair may have a wonderful unexpected outcome, if the poor journalistic standards of a News UK publication prevent Murdoch from taking total control of BskyB, instead approving Comcast’s bid. The end of print-media monopolies is still far off I think, but any deal that prevents one man from dominating public discourse should be cause for celebration.

Joe Holloran

Politically I like my independence. I don’t like governments on either side of the political spectrum interfering with my life. As a general rule, I don’t like them interfering too much in market forces either due to the excessive bureaucracy that their policies often put in place. There is an exception to my rule: monopolies.

For those of you that have never studied these, a monopoly occurs when a single company has sole trading rights on a particular good or service, whether through acquisition or elimination of competitors, via patenting a unique invention, or through legislation. These are great for the producer; not so much for the consumer. When unchecked, monopolies can drastically amplify their prices and decrease quality because there is no alternative to said consumer. Consider train services: Southern Rail holds a monopoly on the entire southern area of the UK despite having more delays than a Brexit bill on a malfunctioning Roomba.

So, Rupert Murdoch then (masterful change of subject there). Does he hold a monopoly on UK media? Well, I just asked our current Editor of the Courier if Murdoch funds us and he said “no”, so therefore he cannot – by definition – hold a monopoly on UK media. He does, however, own The Sun, The Times, The Sunday Times, The News of the World, and a chunk of the Press Association (not to be confused with the Associated Press). The Daily Mail, the second-best-selling UK daily paper after The Sun (isn’t that a depressing thought), is owned by the Viscount of Rothermere and edited by Paul Dacre, the latter of whom has butted heads with Murdoch himself.

Southern Rail holds a monopoly on the entire southern area of the UK despite having more delays than a Brexit bill on a malfunctioning Roomba

For analogy’s sake, saying there is a media monopoly in the UK is like saying Coca-Cola and Pepsi hold a monopoly on cola; they don’t. They have very similar and widely-available products, and can be antagonistic towards each other, but you’re always free to get a Dr Pepper (The Guardian) or even something more off-brand (like YouTube) instead.

And that is what people have been doing. Sales in The Sun and The Daily Mail have declined by 33% and 18% (respectively) between 2010 and 2015, while most other printed papers haven’t declined as much. This could be in part due to the rise of Internet transmission and the overall high print output of these papers, but also due to a shift in public perception. Ten years ago, yes, Murdoch’s pseudo- monopoly could (and probably should) have been broken through legislation. Nowadays, though, it's just buckling all by itself.

Jack Coles

Media monopolies are where massive corporations own the majority of the mainstream media companies, and they are dangerous. Rupert Murdoch is a name many of us will be familiar with. He owns News UK, which runs some of the most popular newspapers in the country including The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times. This amount of power allows potentially damaging agendas to become mainstream, with the anti-refugee rhetoric seen in tabloids over the past few years a clear example of this. With such overbearing influence, it is difficult for alternative views and media outlets to even get a foot in the door. The media is supposed to represent the views of the people – how can it do this effectively if most of the views come from a select group of people at the top?

The media is supposed to represent people's views

Some of the biggest newspapers, including The Sun, The Daily Mail and The Telegraph, have recently published various stories about Jeremy Corbyn giving government secrets to a Czechoslovakian spy in the 1980s. These claims were used by the papers during the General Election last year to stir public outrage over this alleged betrayal by the Labour leader. Fresh stories have been recently released, with Conservative MPs adding in their own claims through social media. Ben Bradley, MP for Mansfield (unfortunately my home constituency) was recently ordered to apologise to Corbyn for his tweets claiming Corbyn had “sold British secrets to communist spies”. The right-wing media, which is owned by billionaires like Murdoch, doesn’t seem to care about journalistic integrity or printing truth. It is easy to rally support for the Tories when you have Tory-influenced media publications spouting nonsensical, but damaging stories about Corbyn and the Labour party. Many casual newspaper readers of these tabloids are unlikely to do their own research and will accept these lies and defamation as fact. This isn’t what a democratic press looks like and it needs to change.

The British public deserve better from their press

Corbyn released a video via Twitter, condemning the smears published by these papers. He said that “a free press is essential for democracy”. What we currently have is not a free press: the most popular newspapers are almost exclusively owned by corporations headed by extremely wealthy people, who can use these outlets for their own political agendas and personal gain. There needs to be a diversification of ownership, with less obvious political affiliations and endorsements from the big names in the media world. The British public deserve better from their press.

Charlotte Boulton

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