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Should we be concerned about the increasing concentration of ownership in the British press?
Concentration of ownership is a widely discussed issue in today’s society and has been looked and written about by a wide number of people.
Colin Seymour-Ure tells us that “Concentration is normally measured by number of newspaper titles or market share.” (1997, 118) Ownership concentration depends on the control of leading press groups, also how their market shares affect certain aspects.
In 1945 there was a lot of speculation about the increases of shares in the newspaper market. Curran explains that “Between 1947 and 1989, the three leading press groups increased by over one-third their share of the newspaper market.” (1997, 77) Therefore the situation occurring is the narrowing of ownership; this was said to be a concern for the Royal commission in 1947. Snoddy says,
“In 1947 the main motivation for a Royal Commission was a fear that a small number of proprietors were gaining too much power over too many newspapers.” (1992, 74)
In the early days of ownership it was pointed out that people such as Lord Rothermere, Lord Beaverbrook and Lord Kemsley had the power to distort the news, it was also concern about their ‘monopolistic tendencies’. But Press Ownership does not seem to have moved away from the ideal of power and the use of politics in today’s society, we still have what can be known as ‘Press Barons’. Seymour-Ure talks of these such people in the following quote, “Media of all kinds seemed more and more to be under the control of few large international corporations, headed by brusque individualists and outsized personalities such as Rupert Murdoch, Robert Maxwell, and Conrad Black ” (1997, 118)
This quote carried on explaining that Murdoch, Maxwell and Black could be compared to Beaverbrooks and Kemsleys.
Snoddy talks about the dominance of the proprietors and how ” this has led to renewed fears about an unhealthy concentration of power in the national newspaper industry.”(1992, 117)
If we conclude the above quotes we do know that concentrated ownership has increased but we must look at the political side of it and also does it influence or even control editorial content and should we be concerned about this?
During the post war period a lot of papers seemed to be controlled by ‘interventionist proprietors’, the Daily Herald and Reynolds News, which were Labour movement papers were an example of papers that were strongly advised what editorial content should be. Curran tells us they were ” tethered to editorial line laid down by their political masters.” (1997, 72)
In 1959 there was a stronger authority of editorial control, this was when Lord Thomson acquired the Kemsley Empire in 1959 and The Times in 1969. From a quote in Power without Responsibility we can see he publicly declared ” I do not believe that a newspaper can be run properly unless its editorial columns are run freely and independently by a highly skilled and dedicated professional journalist.”
(1997, 72) Harold Evans backed up this statement by saying that he could only recall one time in fourteen years as being editor that Lord Thomson politically guided him.
During the 60’s and early 70’s the interventionist proprietors less controlled Fleet Street, and there seemed less hierarchical difference between the proprietors and editors. 1974 again showed us a change in the structure, as there were a new generation of interventionist proprietors appearing, such as Rupert Murdock and Lord Matthews.
In 1974 Murdock decided that he would change his papers over to right wing as that is what he himself believed, this decision was made even though half of his readers were Labour supporters at the time. Murdoch carried on to develop The Sun into a supporting Thatcherite paper even though that was against reader’s opinions. Curran quotes “Only 40 per cent of whom supported the conservatives even in the 1987 general election” (1997, 73). The Sun carried on with it’s support of right wing policies right until 1997 when it did support New Labour but even then stayed following new right policies.
Lord Matthews also had great influence in the political side of his papers he sacked editor Peter Grimsditch so that he could move his paper over to the Tories. Curran tells us that Lord Matthews believed “By large editors will have complete freedom, as long as they agree with the policy I have laid down.”
The third dominant figure that appeared within the newspaper proprietors was Robert Maxwell. In 1984 he acquired the Mirror Group, he used his authority within the paper to air his political views, Curran quotes him saying “I certainly have a major say in the political line of the paper” also he added that running papers “gives me the power to raise issues effectively. In simple terms it’s a megaphone.” (1997, 76) We know that Maxwell could not keep up his interventions for long as his business was slowly getting into debt and in 1991 he was said to have committed suicide as he was stealing to try and recover his media empire.
These are prime examples of areas where we should be concerned about the increase in concentration of ownership. Proprietors influence the editorial content of a paper in the area of politics, even though they are going against what their readers want, therefore proprietors are not putting public interest first but their own concerns and views.
So the concern against concentration of ownership is that press proprietors influence editorial content therefore influencing the way in which public are told information. This can either prove to be bias providing us with false images and also showing that the public is not the proprietor’s main concerns.
The business potential in Press Empire is great and we know that there can always be an increase in wealth earning potential.
For Rupert Murdoch the development of press ownership has led onto a great Media Empire that includes things such as television; books and magazines, even film companies. So we can see the power and influence that Murdock has on what the public read and see on screen.
A concern for concentration of ownership is the lowering standards of newspapers. We know this from seeing tabloids such as The Sun, The Mirror, The Sunday Sport, also Snoddy quotes “The proprietors, as a group, have done little about the growing public concern over newspaper standards in recent years.” (1992, 120)
Although there is concern over standards of tabloids, when questioned Murdock did not see a problem with his paper The Sun. Snoddy tells us that “He is proud of The Sun and everything it stands for” (1992, 124). Should we therefore be concerned that if the ownership concentration also starts to apply to television, that the public will be forced to watch lower standards there? Should the public therefore push for press and broadcasting ownership to be kept separate?
Although there seems to be a lot of evidence to support concentration of ownership as bad thing, we also know that standards of the press have lowered but still The Sun is the top selling paper in this country. So does that mean people are prepared to accept the lower standards?
In today’s society a lot of things are based on money and what a business can make of it, so does society accept that ownership in the press is just like a business and therefore we should not concerned. We know that the ‘White Paper’ prevents cross-media ownership so do we feel safe enough that press and of course media ownership will not get out of hand.
We know that press ownership will always exist in society and that like any business will continue to make money. The concern that we should have about this ownership is to do with the political views that interventionists are placing on the public. We as a society have a right to support who we feel and papers seem to be narrowing our options by giving us a very one sided view. Curran backs this up by saying “The national Press will continue to be more right wing than the public, and to distort the political system by under-representing the left, unless economic structure is changed.” But on this point do we always notice political views when we read a paper and if we don’t therefore we should not be concerned.
The press also has a great sense of power with the ability to promote ideas of lifestyles and ways of life. A concern that could be felt is that with papers promoting power as something natural then we could be led into accepting this as everyday life therefore promoting a typical Marxist theory.
Curran believes that journalists should have a greater say and control in the press, he quotes “Journalists should be allowed to participate in a meaningful way in the appointment of editors”(1997, 367). He tells us “It is in the interests of the public that journalists in the monopolistic press should have more control over what they do”
If above is true then a concern for how ownership is structured rather than if it exists would seem more sensible as we know it exists, we would not be able to get rid of it but we may be able to change it for the better.
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