Hello and welcome to the blog of DemocracyFail. We hope you will join us in our fight and contribute to this blog. Please read our first post to see why we think it’s so important.
Ordinary members of the public are increasingly alarmed by the growth of powerful media empires and their erosion of our democracy. These corporations are not elected, representing only their shareholders, but have the ability to make or break governments, organisations and individuals. They can influence policy and opinion at a stroke, support and oppose wars, and have a profound impact on our lives.
It’s getting worse
The stranglehold of print and broadcast media threatens to get tighter and tighter under the present government. We ignore it at our peril.
What will happen, for instance, if industry regulator, OfCom, goes ahead with its plan to relax the rules governing cross-media ownership? This would pave the way for a single company to own all the newspapers and broadcasting media in a town or city. So if you happen to live in Extown, your local radio station, local paper and TV could all belong to a multinational company based thousands of miles away in another continent and owned by someone called Rupert Murdoch. Everything you read, watch and hear will be under his control.
News International, which publishes The Times, Sunday Times, The Sun and News of the World, is not exactly coy about its role, proudly proclaiming on its website: “We’re delivering more news to more people, more often, in more ways than ever.” They certainly are, accounting for a chilling 37% of the UK’s newspaper circulation.
And what is to be the future of the BBC, prized for its quality and independence? The Murdochs would like it to shrink and the government seems willing to go along with this by cutting its funding. Meanwhile, Murdoch’s News Corporation wants to take over the 60.9% of BSkyB it does not already own. Great potential gains for his Sky Television, and its multiple channels of news and entertainment, which will spread further into our living rooms. (Already over 9 million households subscribe to Sky.) Dire news for plurality and democracy, which is why 40,000 people have signed a petition to Vince Cable.
It doesn’t stop with newspapers and television. The Murdoch empire’s worldwide interests include extensive book publishing, magazines, film production and distribution, technology and multimedia, to name just some. Their impact on our hearts and minds is far greater than any of us realises.
Our argument isn’t with moguls
It may be the largest, but Murdoch’s is not the only media empire in Britain. Richard Desmond owns the Express titles as well as Channel 5. The non domiciled and aloof Barclay Brothers own the Telegraph group. The Independent, The Independent on Sunday and The Standard belong to a Russian oligarch.
Although we use a picture of Rupert Murdoch to illustrate our campaign, our argument is not with him or any of the other moguls. It is with the system that allows any individual or corporation to have such a dominant role – and also their potential to completely disrupt society. Imagine, for instance, if one of them became a convert to fascism. Sounds far fetched perhaps but history teaches us never to underestimate the power of propaganda.
Britain lets it happen
The distinguished journalist, Will Hutton, recently reminded us that ownership of media empires is “a source of public power, a means to shape the world to suit one’s interests. Politicians court editors and proprietors for the very good reason that they can deliver votes and move opinion.”
Yet, despite our long history of democracy, Britain is lagging behind and “dumb” to the importance of complex rules about media ownership.
“We impose no nationality requirement, “ says Hutton, “we do not tightly police the share of any media market held by one proprietor, nor make demands about limiting owners’ power to take ownership chunks across the media domains; we do not even care much about preventing market dominance. The assumption has been that lightly applied competition law, along with self-regulation, is all that is required, with little thought for any politician and cultural consequences. “
Where is the opposition?
We are apparently sleepwalking into a real danger zone, and we, the people, need to wake up. Politicians are mostly a lost cause because so many are afraid to stand up to the media giants. Similarly there is little protest from our opinion leaders and celebrities – it takes courage to bite the hand of one’s employer or potential employer, or the newspaper with a columnist ready to rubbish you. Hence, for decades, there has been little more than a rumbling of high profile protest, leaving it mostly to the brave voices of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, and a range of dedicated trade unionists, organisations and activists who have largely had to fight the battle on their own.
It’s time now for more of us to get on board. The recent 38 Degrees campaign to protect the BBC successfully mobilised thousands of members of the public. We need to continue this trend and involve people from all walks of life. We need to be able to demonstrate our anger, our fear, our concern for the integrity of our media. And if we do it together, we’ll succeed because, at the end of the day, we are the consumers who the media empires depend upon.
We must have a royal commission
Will Hutton has made an overwhelming case for the appointment of a media commission to examine Britain’s ownership and competition rules. We are convinced that this is fundamental to our democracy and needs to happen urgently. But it won’t happen unless we press for it.
This is why, from a kitchen in Kent, we have just launched DemocracyFail, initially a Twitter campaign to spread the word about the need for a media commission. It’s starting to get noticed and the reaction so far has been very positive. People seem pleased to be able to do something tangible instead of tearing their hair out. We hope that, by growing in numbers and sending links to different articles and websites, the idea of a media commission will become an increasingly high profile topic and that Westminster will not be able to ignore our request. We shan’t rest until it happens.