English Papers United Against Murdoch

October 20, 2010 • Ethics and Quality • by

Big Brother is about to step his way into media.

For once, it isn’t Berlusconi.  In fact, according to English papers, the concentration of TV channels belonging to Berlusconi is marginal compared to what is about to occur in Great Britain.  Rupert Murdoch, the Grand Old Man of news, has created a problem so serious it prompted left and right-leaning newspapers to put aside their political and editorial differences and join together in an effort to stop his expansion.

Yesterday progressive papers such as the Guardian and conservative ones like the Daily Telegraph, as well as popular newspapers such as the Daily Mirror, near to the Labour Party, and the Daily Mail, which leans towards the Tories, published a joint appeal.

The appeal calls for Business Secretary Vincent Cable to block the acquisition of stock that would give the News Corporation a 61 percent share in BskyB, the company that owns Sky in the United Kingdom.  Technically, it’s a simple increase in the shares already in Murdoch’s possession. But in reality the increase would make extraordinary new financial resources available to the Australian tycoon, and the resulting conglomeration of publications would be such that on one hand, it could unhinge the advertising market through combined offers, while on the other create synergies among the various publications. Particularly online, allowing him to assume a dominant position on the Internet as well, where the future of publishing will play out in the next few years.

The list of publications controlled by Murdoch is astounding, for it includes the largest popular British newspaper, The Sun, and historic masthead the Times, which account for two-fifths of copies sold in Great Britain along with the weekly News of the World and BskyB which controls 90 percent of pay television programming.  The turnover of the News Corporation group amounts to £9 billion, double that of the BBC, just to provide an idea.  And still there’s more. News Corp swallowed publishing house HarperCollins as well as dozens of newspapers around the world, particularly in America with the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, the Weekly Standard, and the Fox News channel.

That Murdoch’s media have influenced the outcome of elections in a number of countries, especially Great Britain, has been common knowledge for a while.  From Thatcher on (including Labour’s Tony Blair), only candidates in the good graces of the Australian publisher, who invites politicians and prime ministers to his properties for an exclusive and very private annual meeting, have won.

Murdoch has far greater power than Berlusconi, and not concentrated in a single country, but rather spread throughout the entire western world.  Now his British competitors are beginning to see the risk of a near-monopoly on the publishing market quite clearly – and with substantial changes.

Until now large blocks of shares were controlled by institutional investors and investment funds, tomorrow they will be controlled predominantly by Murdoch.  The editorial office of BskyB has been respected for its objectivity while synergy with the other publications of the group was non-existant; in the future it could be required to answer to a single mind, a single hand, which may move to cut costs, merge editorial staffs, sweep the Internet, and push solid paper competitors such as the Guardian and the Telegraph or TV’s Channel 4 – tiny and fragile in the face of a giant such as the News Corporation – off the market.

The small publishers are uniting in the hopes of stopping him, but their fate depends on Prime Minister David Cameron who, like his predecessors, is a big friend of Murdoch – a man whose power is wide-spread and who, despite his Anglo Saxon roots, is more vindictive than a Sicilian.  And considered very, very frightening.

Published in Il Giornale, October 13, 2010

Translated by Ann Wise

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