Rupert Murdoch’s recent and controversial bid to take over the remaining 61 per cent of the broadcasting company BSkyB has raised serious concerns over the influence and power of his media empire and his seemingly inexorable ambitions for media oligarchy. For example, the £2.3 billion difference in revenue between BSkyB and the second largest broadcasting service, the BBC, is set to widen due to a 16 per cent cut in BBC income imposed by the coalition government and a freeze in the licence fee for six years. Yet the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, and the Treasury have the audacity to criticise the BBC’s “extraordinary and outrageous” waste.
Likewise, News International, his newspaper publisher, owns The Sun, The Times, The Sunday Times and News of the World, constituting 37 per cent of newspaper content in Britain. In a report to Business Secretary Vince Cable, media analyst Claire Enders predicts this will rise to 40 per cent by 2014. While smaller newspapers will find it increasingly difficult to compensate for declining circulations, Murdoch’s papers will be able to absorb these loses through other revenues.
With this expansion comes the issue of his power and influence. In July 2009 The Guardian claimed it had evidence that certain News of the World journalists had illegally hacked into the phone messages of prominent people such as John Prescott, Nigella Lawson and Boris Johnson. It also claimed that News of the World had paid hundreds of thousands of pounds in damages and court costs on condition that details were not made public. Not only has there been no further police inquiry, MPs have incredulously retracted their calls for Rebekah Brooks, Chief Executive of News International, to testify because they were warned that their private lives would be investigated. It is grossly unjustifiable how News Corporation can behave as if it were above the law.
There are a number of detrimental reasons why we, as students and British citizens, should be worried about this. First of all there is the threat to media plurality, which is particularly worrying for small magazines such as Impact. Those who write news and comment articles often rely on a variety of media sources, thus providing an eclectic mixture of opinion. If The Sun, The Times and News of the World were our only options judgements would be stunted.
When our elected politicians refuse to confront the alleged illegal activity of the News of the World, their credibility is highly questionable. That coupled with their reliance on propitious headlines makes them look cowardly and sickeningly obsequious. What is even more worrying is the enthusiasm with which key politicians seem to embrace this relationship. Again, the News of the World episode is another good example. David Cameron’s communications director, Andy Coulson, has close contact with the Prime Minister. This is a man who resigned as editor of News of the World over the revelations and who denied any involvement in illegal activity. So either he was a highly incompetent editor or he was lying. The fact that David Cameron vigorously defends Coulson is a disconcerting example of the influence Murdoch’s empire has over politics.
At the moment, Murdoch’s bid is set to be passed from Ofcom, to the Competition Commission, then finally back to the politicians for the final decision. We can be sure that competing newspapers will continue to protest against the bid. Otherwise, the consequences quite frankly seem incomprehensible and don’t bare thinking about.