The UK media in crisis (Corporatism in crisis)

Beyond the banks and the retailers, there are two very live and interconnected issues in the UK at the moment where people are clashing with the damaging effects of corporatism.

The first is in the media. Corporatism came late to the media in the UK, the media was a tool of corporations, so, for a long time, it was fairly protected. At least until the ’80s, most UK newspapers generally had a proprietor, broadcasting was divided between the public-funded sector (the BBC) and an atomised private sector (independent television used to be owned regionally and feed into a central broadcasting channel – ITV).

As a platform for advertisers, the media showed a strong commitment to providing their readership with engaging content. The public service broadcasting ethos of the BBC and, to a defined degree, the independent broadcasters (literally defined – providing defined hours of PSB content was part of the broadcasting license for independent broadcasters) that influenced the independent print media that led to a high standard of journalism across the British media.

Defined political stances of newspapers gave the media a strong level of plurality. The Mail, Express and Telegraph on one side, the Mirror and Guardian on the other, gave readers the opportunity to see clearly a story told from different perspectives. Effective coverage of foreign news was a matter of serious pride in the British media – it was long-standing and had developed and improved over the years. John Pilger was the Mirror’s star reporter in the 1960s, reporting from all over the world.

Then came the Murdochs and Maxwells and the beginnings of corporate logic. Profit and paying shareholders came first, quality content second and employment rights last. Murdoch is still infamous in the media industry for his attempted destruction of the media unions. Celebrities started to replace the world as the key subject for coverage – it was cheaper and the public seemed to like it.

There were a few bumps along the way (Maxwell, Conrad Black), but corporate logic has become so deeply embedded in the UK media that it’s destroying it. The independent TV companies became one company. Regional media was bought up by ever larger corporations – few bigger than Newsquest, owned by US corporate giant Gannet.

The logic of these media corporations has been to squeeze as much profit as possible from their holdings. As advertising revenues have declined in recent years, they’ve started to cut, and cut, and cut, and cut. Journalism in the UK has, since the 1960s, gradually become churnalism – desk-bound journalists recycling agency copy and press releases and largely featuring the same content. Pluralism destroyed by lack of journalistic capacity.

Two weeks ago, the National Union of Journalists held a jobs summit and declared war. Stay tuned for strike after strike across the country as journalists fight to take back the media from the corporations. Right now, discussions are starting to figure out new funding models for the media.

For more, see the NUJ’s Local News Matters campaign.

To join the discussion, come along to the NUJ Left’s public meeting on media ownership on 17 February.


Author: Donnacha DeLong

Originally from Dublin, Ireland, Donnacha DeLong is an NUJ activist, journalist and online communications consultant with more than 20 years' professional experience.

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