The media should not be concentrated in a few powerful hands
Throughout Europe a deterioration of media diversity has occurred in recent years. In Italy, Bulgaria, and Romania, there is a significant overlap of media, economic and political interests, while in Hungary, there has been an increase in the open affiliation of media organisations with political parties.
In the UK, media concentration has led to a skewing of public debate in favour of big business and private interests. Media ownership rules have been radically liberalised since the Broadcasting Act of 1990, and in June 2011 new legislation removed all cross-media ownership rules at a local level.
Just three companies now control nearly 70% of UK national newspaper circulation, with Rupert Murdoch’s News UK (a subsidiary of News Corp) alone representing over 30%. Measured by browsing time, only five groups control more than 70% of online news consumption.
Such media concentration has enabled some media groups to obtain vast revenue and influence. With power in increasingly few hands, public debate is often restricted to those agendas favoured by press elites, as the space available to a diversity of voices shrinks.
In place of a range of viewpoints reflecting a diverse public, media outlets often deny fair and open debate on issues of public interest.
For example, the Daily Mail has provided staunch support for the government’s austerity programme of vast and unpopular cuts to public spending, whilst supporting the transfer of the NHS into private hands, and arguing to retain the 50p tax rate for higher earners. It has waged a sustained campaign attempting to discredit climate science. (A recent headline begins: “Are you 'a global warming Nazi'?”.)
Powerful outlets regularly use their position of influence over public opinion as a platform for attack and misrepresentation. The unemployed, the working poor, and immigrants, are routinely vilified by the press, marginalising large sectors of society and denying them a voice for self-representation.
The recent House of Lords report on media plurality sums up what is at stake in a concentrated media:
Media plurality is not a goal in itself but a means to an end. That end is generally conceived in terms of UK democratic life; if there is sufficient media plurality, we can expect that citizens have the opportunity to be informed through access to a diversity of viewpoints […].
The report acknowledges that 'the policy and regulatory framework currently surrounding plurality needs updating', yet, as Des Freedman of the Media Reform Coalition has written, it shrinks 'from taking immediate or decisive action to tackle the problem'. The existing media ownership regime is not working to protect or nurture pluralism or democracy; this urgently needs to change.
The Coalition for Media Pluralism has been created in response to the problem of media concentration. We are working as part of a wider European campaign to promote a citizens' initiative calling for an EU Directive on national media ownership, including legislation to avoid concentration in the media and advertising sectors. The initiative is based on the idea that European institutions should safeguard the right to independent and diverse information as sanctioned by the European Charter on Human Rights.
Our media should represent a diversity of voices and viewpoints. This is an opportunity for citizens to change how the media is controlled, and to reclaim public debate from unaccountable private power.
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