While supporting a thriving industry and decentralisation, campaigners for a democratic media have been concerned for some time about the planned relaxation of provincial cross-media ownership rules. When Jeremy Hunt spoke enthusiastically about the prospect of all the newspapers, TV and radio in a single location belonging to one company, we turned decidedly pale! We hardly need to describe the implications of a local media monopoly, probably part of a much larger media empire, with tentacles in every aspect of life within its community.
A small story buried in today’s Media Guardian, rings even more alarm bells about local democracy. According to Damian Tambini, a lecturer at the London School of Economics: “Jeremy Hunt wants his city-based local TV stations to unleash an army of local ‘Jeremy Paxmans’ to hold local councils to account”.
At first glance, this seems fair enough. But the reality is that the “Paxmans” are likely to be grilling Labour councillors and questioning Labour policies, while Tory councils languish in peace. The reason, Tambini explains, is that, according to Nick Shott’s review on behalf of Hunt, local TV is only going to be viable in the major conurbations. And these are far more likely to be Labour controlled, while Conservative councils in the shires escape this level of scrutiny.
Whether or not this is Hunt’s political intention, is irrelevant, he contends, as the political impact will be uneven and we can only speculate what this will mean in the long term. Yet local TV is being rushed through, he states, in contrast to the rest of the Communications Policy Agenda, that has to wait until 2015 for legislation. He argues for full independent scrutiny by parliament. (We agree, but add that this is another compelling reason for a full scale comprehensive review of all media ownership in the UK.)
Tambini points out that Hunt’s reassurances on impartiality give small comfort as this cannot prevent journalists from setting their own agendas. He concludes: “Hunt’s political opponents must be concerned that public money will be used to fund journalists digging for anti-Labour stories, while the Tory-dominated county councils will get off ‘Shott free’. “
The subject of local TV may seem a little unsexy compared to the more highly publicised media stories of the day. But it requires equal vigilance, exposure and debate, particularly since, once again, the dice are being loaded in favour of one political party. Nothing democratic there!
“Jeremy Hunt’s local TV plans let off Tory councils” Media Guardian, 7.2.11 http://t.co/23ltS5e