A motion calling on a future Labour government to adopt a radical programme for media reform failed to be selected for debate at the recent Labour Party conference held in Liverpool.
The motion Action for better media was tabled by the Skipton and Ripon Constituency Party and set out a wide-ranging programme for reform. It included calling on a future Labour government to reinstate the Leveson 2 inquiry which was to investigate the relationship between journalists and the police and corporate governance failures at news organisations. It was scrapped by the Conservatives in 2018.
Other proposals included preparing legislation to challenge large corporations’ domination of press ownership and high levels of media concentration, more effective press regulation and replacing the BBC’s Royal Charter with parliamentary and public scrutiny, making the prime public service broadcaster more publicly accountable with reduced government influence.
‘A democratically accountable media’
Outside the conference and at various fringe meetings supporters of Media North, which campaigns for a diverse, democratically accountable media, distributed over a thousand leaflets calling for radical media reform which were well received by many delegates who were concerned about the state of the UK’s media. Although the motion failed to win enough support to be debated, the Skipton and Ripon Constituency will be discussing furthering the campaign within the Labour Party for media reform.
The motion was also discussed by delegates at an overflowing fringe meeting – ‘It’s the press, stupid’ – organised by Hacked Off and Byline Times, which warned that unless a future Labour government addresses press accountability, it would struggle to deliver change on the issues which matter. The panel discussion which included London Labour MPs Dawn Butler and Bell Ribeiro-Addy, focused on how sections of the press were holding back progressive change in the UK and why a future Labour government must take urgent action on press standards.
Media North argues that it is time for Labour to recognise the sector we call ‘the media’ includes not just newspapers, magazines and traditional broadcasters but involves the rapidly expanding digital media – including content providers, the use of artificial intelligence to produce content, the peddling of ‘fake news’ and potential mergers in the telecoms and communications sector leading to greater ownership concentration.
Reinforcing the case for radical reform just days before the conference, the Media Reform Coalition published a new edition of its 2021 media ownership report which featured updated data and analysis from the 2019 and 2015 reports. It demonstrated the continuing concentration of media ownership in the UK. The report highlights the dangerous levels of concentrated ownership across the UK’s national and local press, in TV and radio broadcasting, streaming services and online platforms.
Large-scale media ownership gives unparalleled power
It shows that just three companies – DMG Media (publishers of the Daily Mail, Metro and i), News UK (The Sun and The Times) and Reach (Daily Mirror, Daily Express, and Daily Star) – dominate 90% of national newspaper circulation. These same three companies account for more than 40% of the total audience reach of the UK’s top 50 online news brands, giving a handful of dominant publishers an unrivalled position for setting the news agenda across print, broadcast and online formats.
It is a similar picture regionally and locally where 71% of the UK’s 1,189 local newspapers are owned by just six companies. The two largest local publishers – Newsquest and Reach – each control a fifth of the local press market, more than the combined share of titles owned by the smallest 173 local publishers.
Ownership concentration in the big tech companies is no better, where ten of the top 15 online platforms used to access news in the UK are owned by Meta, Google and X Corp (owners of X/Twitter). Meta and Google command around four-fifths of all online advertising spend, giving these two tech giants unparalleled power over how online news is found and funded.
Recently The Guardian revealed that the UK lost £2bn in tax from big tech firms. The analysis by TaxWatch estimated that the British arms of seven major tech firms paid £750mn in corporation tax instead of a possible £2.8bn. All the companies covered in the report were approached by TaxWatch for comment, and those who responded emphasised that they complied with all their tax responsibilities in the jurisdictions in which they operate.
TaxWatch, an investigative think tank dedicated to compliance with and sound administration of tax law, was founded in 2018 by Julian Richer, the millionaire founder of hi-fi retailer Richer Sounds.
Meanwhile, Media North’s founder Granville Williams outlines the next steps in the campaign. “It’s clear for all sorts of reasons media reform is a marginal priority as Labour chooses the policies it will fight the next election on. We explore some of the reasons why, in the autumn issue of Media North. We plan to hold a national conference in Spring 2024 which will enable us to put the issue of media reform back as a priority on the political agenda. We urge people who think this needs to be done to contact us and help us in this important work.”