Enders Analysis consultant and author of How to Live a Low-Carbon Life and Ten Technologies to Fix Energy and Climate
Chris Goodall opened the day with a talk on the role of plurality in the media. Essentially his argument was that we exist in filter bubble and beware lest the important things get filtered out. He stressed the significance of old media (radio, newspaper and TV) in preventing this and that’s why he fought ardently against the NewsCorp bid for BSkyB.
As it stands old media dominates the population’s source of news. Although, radio is still our primary source TV is becoming more influential. Goodall predicts that in 10 years it is likely that BBC and Sky will be the only two TV news sources, further limiting diversity.He illustrated his concerns with the example of the London riots. Goodall was in France at the time and he saw the limited press interpreted the events through French social problems. They proclaimed the cause as a failure of multiculturalism, which isn’t what happened at all. Unlike France we have 9 national newspapers, which provide a wide range of opinions. The validity of those opinions is irrelevant as coverage substantially trumps comment. If a subject is widely covered in the media people will form their own opinions about it. Additionally, if the media pursue an issue persistently over a long period of time the government or appropriate institution will act. However, if the media have a uniform opinion of a subject the dissenters are blocked out and a ‘spiral of silence’ occurs.
Plurality is important because when the range of media is limited a small group can easily manipulate public opinion. Currently there’s a high concentration of power in national news with only four main players: Rupert Murdoch (NewsCorp), Richard Desmond (Express Newspapers) and then possibly the Barlay Brothers (Press Acquisitions Ltd) and Viscount Rothermere (Daily Mail and General Trust), he spoke too quickly for my pen here 😦 The point is plurality reduces the power of the media over democratic institutions.
Goodall then discussed his opposition to the proposed takeover of BSkyB by NewsCorp earlier this year. If NewsCorp had been allowed to buy BSkyB they would now own 22% of all news consumed in the UK. This itself is a threat to plurality, and it’s augmented by NewCorp’s ability to outspend all of its competitors, by which he was referring to their tendency to buy people off. The only other media organisation with enough capital to do this is the BBC and they wouldn’t. So how else are NewsCorp a harmful to plurality? Goodall cited the 100 meetings between high-ranking NewsCorp and government officials that happened in the first year of the coalition. The government valued NewsCorp and wanted to influence their coverage. He also talked about how NewsCorp paid the legal fees of arrested employees and paid off hacking victims, which is a clear obstruction of justice. The corruption of the Metropolitan Police was also referenced, bearing in mind that further allegations of story feeding emerged over the weekend.
In his concluding remarks Goodall stated that new media (i.e. the internet in all its glorious forms) can not replace old media. For example there’s no true equivalent of old media style investigative journalism in new media. I would debate that and say the difference is publicity, but meh. His final observation was about Murdoch and war. Over the last 30 years Rupert Murdoch has strongly supported every war that Britain has become involved in. Goodall made clear that he was a pacifist, but his point still stands. All 175 NewsCorp newspapers were in favour of the Iraq war. They all employ editors in line with Murdoch’s politics. This isn’t plurality.