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The threat to media diversity

October 9, 2009 Leave a comment

labourslostitAs was touched upon in this post, and following a week in which we have seen The Sun unsurprisingly shift its political allegiance to the Conservative Party, the influence that the media holds over our parliamentary representatives has never been greater.

The Sun has a remarkable track record in recent general elections of always backing the winning party. Is this merely that it closely matches the prevailing mood of the British public or, rather, that it shapes this public opinion through its editorial stance? Obviously these processes are not mutually exclusive, yet the idea that the present UK media could strongly influence UK public opinion is deeply troubling.

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The timing of The Sun’s shift in political allegiance (on the night after Gordon Brown’s keynote speech at the Labour Party conference) was intended to cause maximum damage to the Labour brand at a particularly sensitive time. Labour, to their discredit, appeared to fall into denial. Dismissive and mocking of The Sun’s decision, whilst simultaneously not failing to make repeat mentions of it throughout the remainder of the conference.

Labour are concerned and rightfully so. Clearly, there is more to this story than a mere editorial decision. Cameron openly welcomed The Sun’s move with an element of faux-surprise. His disingenuously earnest face matched by his now all-too-familiar empty rhetoric about ‘the task in hand’. Whilst The Sun’s decision has the dirty prints of the Tories all over it, particularly with respect to its timing, the even filthier paw of the Murdochs left its greasy residue for all to see. The Sun openly admitted so, yet this makes their overwhelming involvement no more palatable.

It has become increasingly clear that the Murdochs are fantasising over the potential dismantling of the BBC, and the Tories are happy to comply if it gains the support of one of the globe’s most powerful media actors. Both have made threatening noises over the perceived media dominance of the inefficient behemoth that is the contemporary BBC. The Conservatives will almost certainly prevent any further rises to the licence fee over the coming years, which (due to inflationary pressures) will significantly reduce the BBC’s amount of revenue leading to possible job losses, lower quality programming, and the loss of channels BBC3 and BBC4.

Mini Murdoch has, unsurprisingly, reinforced such attacks upon the BBC, citing in a speech at this year’s Edinburgh TV festival that the BBC’s prominent position across a range of media is a threat to private competition. Such apparent concern for retaining media plurality is disingenuous at best, given the apparent ease in which the Murdoch empire continues to expand, removing many competing media outlets as it does so. The BBC stands as a major obstacle to a Murdoch media monopoly, an entity that would prove extremely threatening to democratic ideals in the UK.

Given the apparently coincidental coalescence of both the Murdoch and Tory attitudes to the UK media’s future, it is pertinent to question the relationship between the two. It seems increasingly likely that a behind-the-scenes deal has been brokered. The Tories will emasculate the BBC in its current form, providing an increasingly open media market for the Murdoch empire to further increase its presence and, potentially, control. In return, the Murdochs will use their increasingly dominant media presence to promote the Conservative Party and its ideals. An easy decision given the favourable economic and sociopolitical climate that the Tories will provide for the Murdochs. Make no mistake, this is an overwhelmingly political decision. The creation of this coalition is a serious threat to an already divided and weak British Left.

Further evidence is provided by the Conservative’s threats/blackmailing of The Guardian. Removing the newspaper’s invaluable revenue stream by ensuring that “all government and local authority jobs will only be advertised on a single government-run website” could very conceivably lead to its destruction. The notion that both the BBC and The Guardian have given the Conservative Party a relatively easy ride in recent months is becoming increasingly prevalent. Blackmailing the media’s Left into submission is a cowardly act by a Party that is only too self-aware of the unpalatable nature of many of its policies and members.

The financial crisis is central to these recent media developments. Besides obviously suffering a sharp reduction in advertising revenue, the Murdoch’s media empire represents a world view that has become almost wholly discredited. The same view that is largely shared by the Conservatives. The idea that unfettered markets have failed is unquestionably damaging to the Right. However, much of the UK media has spun the lie that it is the monolithic UK state that is to blame for our economic downturn – a view widely supported by the Conservatives. Unfortunately, a large proportion of the UK public appear to be buying this myth. A fact that has not gone unnoticed to Murdoch et al.

Whilst global opinion favours a return to more Keynesian economic models, the Conservatives will reduce state expenditure on a level not experienced since the Thatcher era. Despite such ideas holding little credibility amongst most prominent economists, they do gain support from many media owners. The gravest short-term danger of this Conservative-Murdoch alliance is that the UK public will support economic reforms that will lead to a double-dip recession. The long-term effects could be even more damaging. Attacking what remains of the media Left will only serve to reduce government accountability in the UK – a healthy society has a balanced political spectrum. Without a credible opposition, government can operate with impunity.

A final note should be made of a definite trend, particularly (although not exclusively) prevalent amongst media outlets on the Right of the political divide, for misinforming the public. The mythical association between the state and the financial crisis is relatively benign in comparison to the recent rise in the number of children suffering measles infections – a direct consequence of Right-wing media outlets’ lies regarding the MMR vaccine. Recent belligerence from the Daily Mail with respect to the alleged (though completely unfounded) dangers of the cervical cancer vaccine suggests little has changed.