Britain’s media ownership rules must change

Following last night’s Dispatches on Channel 4, word is beginning to spread about our campaign for a media commission.  For the benefit of everyone visiting our blog for the first time, we thought we should briefly restate the reasons behind our mission.

DemocracyFail was formed by concerned members of the public at the beginning of September, in response to an article in The Observer by Will Hutton, where he warned  about the inadequacies of the existing rules on media ownership and how Britain is lagging behind the laws of other democracies: 

What wealthy people do with their media empires is contentious in all western democracies. Ownership is not just 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.

Which is why most democracies have developed complex rules about media ownership.  Britain, dumb to its importance, has the lightest of touches.  We impose no nationality requirement; 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 political and cultural consequences.  It is, I submit, the attitude of a declining civilisation that is losing its pride and sense of national purpose.

The current situation is clearly dangerous to a democracy yet, astonishingly, Murdoch is poised to take even more  control.  His bid for the remaining 61% of BSkyB and the prospect of relaxation in the rules of cross media ownership, means that his empire could soon control over 50% of the newspaper and television markets respectively.  Who is set to stop him?  Not, it seems, David Cameron or Jeremy Hunt. 

Clearly there must be a change in the rules and laws governing media ownership, competition and regulation.  Will Hutton proposes the establishment of a media commission to make this come about, but it is unlikely to come about without public support.  DemocracyFail was set up to mobilise that support.  As a first step, please follow us on Twitter and join us in spreading the call for a media commission.  And please watch this space for further developments.


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