Will Blair take on the media moguls? Not likely!

ON 8 February London Freelance Branch will be holding its annual meeting in the House of Commons -- on the timely topic of Media Ownership. Under the title "Media Diversity: Will Blair Deliver?" members will hear leading politicians and media experts debate the need and desirability for more control over and regulation of the media marketplace -- and join in.

Cross-media ownership is on the increase in the digital and satellite TV age. Murdoch's desire to buy Manchester United is perhaps the most obvious example which highlights the possible consequences of this concentration of economic and cultural power.

Consider, too, that United News and Media Group, under the Labour sympathiser Lord Hollick, owns both Anglia TV and the Daily Express and Star, and that the Daily Mail is part of a media conglomerate deeply involved in cable television.

In July, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Culture and Sport jointly published a Green Paper, Regulating Communications: approaching convergence in the Information Age. It allowed only four months for consultation Clearly there has been a lack of public debate in the media and few, if any, soundings of popular opinion have been made. The Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom has, however, published its response -- Putting People First. The CPBF, to which the NUJ is affiliated, argues for greater public input to, and control over, the media. It proposes limits on ownership, a tougher regulatory body , a statutory right of reply and taxation of profits to provide funds to subsidise public access.

The Green Paper, in unsurprising contrast, says that concentration of media ownership is "inevitable and possibly desirable". It argues that the Conservative Party's attitude to Public Service Broadcasting was correct, and concludes that commercial programme makers should have fewer obligations placed upon them, in order to reduce their costs.

It makes no mention of accountability, only access, and that in the narrowest terms. It does not mention the Multilateral Treaty on Investment (MAI) negotiations, nor their follow-up in the World Trade Organization: these would limit all governments' powers to regulate multinational conglomerates.

George Orwell, a journalist, saw Big Brother in government regulation. Should we now urge government to regulate an Even Bigger Brother of international capital? Come and take part in the debate.

  • Putting people First by Tom O'Malley, from CPBF, 8 Cynthia Street, London N1 9JF: £2 inc p&p.

Jan/Feb 1999
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