188.8.131.52 Ownership of Media Organisations
The ownership of media organisations is significant because of the influence they exert on both politicians and the public.
It isn’t always obvious who is wielding power through the media and for what purpose. Media owners can advance their own interests – financial, moral, ideological or social – by promoting a chosen narrative, often without acknowledging that they are self-interested. They can decide who can use a channel and what can be said, yet such editorial control is not always visible or acknowledged – so media content can lack accountability.
If news media are predominantly controlled by the government, people cannot be sure that they are being given enough accurate information to hold that government to account and the opposition could legitimately claim to be at a disadvantage. For example, a Guardian article, Stop blaming Italians for Berlusconi, started with this strapline:
“It’s not voters’ admiration for a Casanova prime minister that keeps Berlusconi in power – it’s his control of the media”.
As discussed later in this chapter (184.108.40.206), free speech is important and it is therefore unwise to limit the freedom of the media, but it is equally unwise to let ownership of media organisations be concentrated in too few hands – especially given their lack of accountability. A New Report: Who Owns the UK Media in 2019?, revealed that:
“just three companies (News UK, Daily Mail Group and Reach) dominate 83% of the national newspaper market … In the area of local news, just five companies (Gannett, Johnston Press, Trinity Mirror, Tindle and Archant) account for 80% of titles …Two companies have 46% of all commercial local analogue radio stations and two-thirds of all commercial digital stations.”
This concentration of ownership is accompanied by a reduction in the number of reporters. Fewer local stories get reported. As the Spectator asks, Who will safeguard our democracy if local news dies?
The influence of Internet social media was described above (220.127.116.11). It is pressure put by individuals, including politicians, on each other – so it is different in nature from the influence exerted by newspapers and broadcast media. It has been suggested, though, that Internet providers such as Facebook, Twitter and Google can be regarded as media organisations. They argue that they are merely distributers of the information provided by their users, but many politicians disagree. A BBC report – Facebook, Twitter and Google grilled by MPs over hate speech – noted that British politicians had argued that “Social media giants should “do a better job” to protect users from online hate speech”.
The Internet companies undoubtedly wield great power, which could be misused. Google, for example, has been accused of anti-conservative censorship and it could make some material more difficult to find by users of its search-engine on the Internet – as alleged in a Conservative News and Views article: Google Destroying Free Speech.
This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books. An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/6432.htm.