- Date published:
12:44 pm, March 19th, 2013 - 12 comments
Categories: broadcasting, capitalism, democratic participation, internet, news, newspapers, tv, twitter, uk politics - Tags: fourth estate, news corp, sky tv
The withdrawal of News Corp from SkyNZ, and the recent deal about press regulation in the UK is a symptom of the demise of media moguls, like Murdoch and a shift of balance between the corporate media and politicians. It is part of the demise of media moguls, the rise of financial investors, the threats from the Internet, and a shift of balance between corporate media and politicians. It does not necessarily mean a revival of the critical, fourth estate ideal in the interest of the general public, especially the least powerful (as argued by Nicky Hagar).
As the UK (and US media goes), NZ follows to some extent. We have seen that with the rise and rise of infotainment in the era of media moguls. The withdrawal of Murdoch’s News Corp from Sky NZ, does not end the power of wealthy elites over the news media. It signals a shift that involves the rising significance of media online, and from media moguls to financial investors. John Drinnan, in a comment on The Standard, claimed that the selling of News Corp shares has increased NZ ownership for now. However, as Drinnan indicates,this is no guarantee of the end to the influence from the global financial elites.
The struggle over press regulation in the UK has largely been one between the corporate media and politicians and against a back-drop of celebrity culture, at least as far as the most populist part of the MSM is concerned. However, there has also been some crucial input from academics, which points to the main issue being the concentration of ownership of the news media by increasingly more powerful and wealthy entities.
Professor James Curran, in his submission to the Leveson Inquiry in November 2011, argued:
The problem with our high degree of press concentration, in other words, is that it encourages the periodic erosion of press independence through the forging of high level alliances between press oligarchs and government that can be tacit or explicit, pragmatic or ideological. This gives rise to what can be termed ‘coalitional journalism’ that weakens the role of the press as an independent watchdog, and distorts the press as a medium of debate.
Following the Leveson Report, there was a period of debate, struggle and negotiation over the form of the required new press regulation. In a November 2012 BBC4 (radio) podcast, Professor Natalie Fenton and ex-Guardian editor Peter Preston discussed the issues, chaired by journalist Steve Hewlett.
While Preston (5-6 mins approx) argued that any statutory underpinning of the regulations would open the door to political interference, Fenton disagreed. She argues,
The reason we are here is because of unlawful, unethical, intimidatory and misrepresentative behaviour by the press. It’s nothing to do with the politicians although it has become because the press has become so powerful, actually they’ve stopped holding politicians to account. They’ve actually started calling them to heel. So we have a real problem there.”
It will be a while before the dust settles and the details of the deal over press regulation in the UK settles. Both sides are currently claiming victory. There has been the inclusion of some statutory underpinning, while PM Cameron is claiming victory in removing oversight from direct political interference. The group Hacked Off (strongly associated with Hugh Grant), is pretty happy with the outcome, while the organisation strongly opposing any political involvement (Index on Censorship) is unhappy. The statutory underpinning will be entrenched, adding an obstacle to political interference.
However, Hugh Grant’s involvement and his focus on the privacy of individuals, does nothing to counter the celebrity culture logic embedded in the current dominance of infotainment in the MSM.
And, as some argue, the Leveson Report sidelines the elephant in the room, the increasing role of the internet. In the lead up to the regulation settlement, Cory Doctorow, on Boing Boing pointed to as part of the proposed deal, Schedule 4 would the coverage of news-related material on websites:
What neither of them are talking about is Schedule 4, which establishes that the new rules will cover “a website containing news-related material (whether or not related to a newspaper or magazine)” where publication “takes place in the United Kingdom” and relates to “news or information about public affairs” or “opinion about matters relating to the news or current affairs.”
Tweeters, bloggers and bloggers could apparently be subject to complaints resulting in them having to pay to defend themselves. This could open the way to both external and self-censorship. At this stage, I’m not sure how much this is scaremongering, as the UK deal is quite complicated, and will be tested in practice.
However, what is clear is that the news mediascape is changing, there are struggles going on, largely between the corporate media and politicians. The importance of ending the powerful influence of the wealthy capitalist elites, the issue of the concentration of media ownership and the urgent need to resurrect a truly critical, and democratic fourth estate remain marginalised.
[Update: The deal excludes tweeters, bloggers etc. According to an Independent article, major newspapers are furious about the deal, and
It emerged last night that the new provisions would cover news-based websites – including the online editions of national newspapers and sites such as the Huffington Post – but not broadcasters’ websites. It will also exclude bloggers, tweeters and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter and small publishers of special interest and trade titles.