Select Committee on Communications First Report


CHAPTER 4: WHY CONSOLIDATION MATTERS

Introduction

160.  As news providers have been subject to greater market pressures there has been a trend towards consolidation of ownership. This is true within certain sectors and across the media as a whole. This chapter starts by considering who owns each sector of the news media and what else they own, before considering the advantages and disadvantages of ownership consolidation.

National Press Ownership

161.  Eight owners now dominate the national press. This level of concentration within the national newspaper market has not changed since Guardian Media Group bought The Observer in 1993. However, there have been increasing levels of cross-media ownership. Nowadays, most of the companies that own national newspapers also have large holdings in other media enterprises. Table one shows the eight national newspaper publishers and some of their other media assets.

TABLE 1

Top ten national newspaper publishers

Publisher National newspaper titles Total national market share (based on circulation)[43] Other relevant UK media assets include Other international assets include
News International
(a wholly owned subsidiary of News Corporation plc)
The Times
Sun
The Sunday Times
News of the World
35.5%NewsCorp owns 39% of BSkyB[44]
BSkyB has a 17.9% share in ITV1 (although it has been ordered to reduce its stake to no more than 7.5%).
News International owns thelondonpaper (an evening freesheet)
NewsCorp has numerous international media assets. Some of the biggest are: Fox News (USA), Star Television (Asia), The New York Post (USA), Dow Jones (USA), The Wall Street Journal (USA), 20th Century Fox Film, Harper Collins Publishers, News Limited (publishers of national and regional newspapers in Australia)[45]
Daily Mail and General TrustDaily Mail
The Mail on Sunday
19.3%Evening Standard
Metro (a morning freesheet)
London Lite (an evening freesheet)
Northcliffe Media (large UK regional newspaper publisher with over 100 UK publications—see table two)
15.6% stake in the Press Association[46]
14.3% of GCap Media plc[47] (see table four)
DMG Information (an international provider of business information)
Euromoney Institutional Investor (a business to business media group which publishes over 100 magazines, newsletters and journals)
DMG World Media (an international exhibition and trade publishing company)
DMG Radio Australia (holder of 10 radio licences in Australia)[48]
Trinity MirrorDaily Mirror
Sunday Mirror
The People
Daily Record
Sunday Mail
20.3%21.5% stake in the Press Association[49]
Trinity Mirror's Regional Division is the largest UK regional newspaper publisher (see table two)[50]
Scottish Daily Record and Sunday Mail Ltd publisher the Daily Record and Sunday Mail, as well as seven other Scottish publications[51]
Northern and ShellDaily Express
Daily Star
Sunday Express
Daily Star Sunday
11.9%Northern and Shell publishes the celebrity gossip magazines: OK!, New and Star
Cable television channels Television X and Express Shopping Channel[52]
Telegraph Media GroupThe Daily Telegraph
The Sunday Telegraph
6.1%the Spectator
Spectator Business
Guardian Media GroupThe Guardian
The Observer
3.4%GMG Regional Media (publishers of the Manchester Evening News and a number of other regional newspapers in the North West and South of England)
GMG Radio (operator of 13 analogue and 24 digital radio stations)
Trader Media Group—jointly owned with Apax Partners (publisher of Auto Trader)
EMap Communications—jointly owned with Apax Partners (publisher of various business magazines including Broadcast, Nursing Times, Construction News)[53]
Independent News & Media The Independent
The Independent on Sunday
1.8%The Belfast Telegraph
Sunday Life (an Irish title)[54]
Numerous, including: New Zealand Herald, 12 Australian network radio stations, INM South Africa (publisher of various SA newspapers) and Danik Jagran (the most read Hindi language paper in India)[55]
PearsonFinancial Times 1.8%FT.com—an audited business website
FT business—publisher of UK finance magazines
FT Group also runs a pan-European network of national business newspapers and two companies which provide business data and analysis.
Pearson Group owns 50% of Economist Newspaper Ltd[56]; the Penguin Group publishing business; and Pearson Education, a leading education company.[57]



Regional and local press ownership

162.  Four publishers dominate the regional and local press. The consolidation of ownership of UK local and regional newspapers has been particularly marked. The four biggest local and regional publishers are Trinity Mirror, the Daily Mail and General Trust (owner of Associated Newspapers and Northcliffe Media), Johnston Press and Newsquest Media Group. These four now have almost 70% market share across the UK[58]. In addition to their acquisitions of regional and local newspapers all but one of these groups (and most of the smaller groups) have significant cross-media interests (see table two).


TABLE 2

Top ten regional newspaper publishers

Publisher (and selection of major titles)
Number of titles[59]
Weekly circulation (m) [60]
Total group market share (based on circulation)[61]
Other UK media assets
Other international media assets
Trinity Mirror plc
(Birmingham Post;
Coventry Evening Telegraph; Liverpool Echo; Western Mail; and the Newcastle Sunday Sun)
185
11.2
16.7%
See table one for the other assets of Trinity Mirror
Johnston Press plc
(The Scotsman; Yorkshire Post; Lancashire Evening Post; and Halifax Courier)
283
8.8
13.2%
n/a
n/a
Newsquest Media Group Ltd—a wholly owned subsidiary of Gannet plc.
(The Argus; Northern Echo; The Herald);
215
9.7
14.4%
n/a
Gannett's American media assets include 85 daily newspapers, 23 television stations and a news wire service.
Associated Newspapers—Owned by DMGT plc. (Evening Standard; Metro; London Lite).
13
9.1
13.5%
See table one for the other assets of DMGT
Northcliffe Media Ltd—Owned by DMGT plc.
(Nottingham Evening Post; Leicester Mercury; Western Daily News)
135
7.9
11.8%
See table one for the other assets of DMGT
Guardian Media Group (Manchester Evening News; Stockport Times; Macclesfield Express; and Rochdale Observer).
43
2.6
3.9%
See table one for the other assets of GMG
n/a
News International Newspapers (The London Paper)
1
2.4
3.5%
See table one for the other assets of News International
The Midland News Association (West Midlands Express and Star; and Shropshire Star)
19
2.0
2.9%
n/a
n/a
DC Thomson & Co Ltd
(Aberdeen Evening Express)
6
1.9
2.8%
n/a
n/a



Television news ownership

163.  Only three companies produce national television news: the BBC, ITN and BSkyB. It is broadcast by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five and Sky. Regional television news is produced by the BBC and by the channel 3 licence holders.

164.  The BBC is the dominant force in television news provision. In 2006, the combined audiences of BBC1, BBC2 and BBC News 24 news programmes gave the BBC 60.4% of UK television news audiences (ref).

165.  The striking example of consolidation in the commercial sector is ITV. The ownership of the ITV Network has consolidated considerably since the passage of the Broadcasting Act 1990. ITV plc currently owns 11 of the 15 channel 3 regional licences that make up the ITV network. Originally, no ITV company was allowed to hold more than one regional licence in order to ensure plurality of ownership and diversity of output. The Broadcasting Act 1990 allowed for some consolidation within the network, although no single ITV company was allowed to have more than 15% market share. Within the newly liberalised ownership rules, Granada and Carlton acquired the majority of the regional ITV franchises.

166.  In 1994, Granada acquired LWT (London Weekend Television) and bought Yorkshire and Tyne Tees Television in 1997 to form the Granada Media Group. In 2000, Granada also purchased United News and Media's two ITV franchises, Anglia TV[62] and Meridian Broadcasting[63] and the following year it bought Border TV[64] from the Capital Radio group. Carlton first entered the ITV network in 1987 when it bought a 19% stake in Central Independent Television and in 1991 it replaced Thames Television as the London weekday licence holder and bought HTV[65]. By 1993, Carlton had bought a 20% stake in GMTV (increased to 25% in 1999) and in 1996, Carlton also acquired an 81% shareholding in Central and West Country TV. The ownership rules still prevented the creation of a single ITV company but with the passage of the Communications Act 2003, these restrictions were removed. In February 2004, the merger of Granada and Carlton was completed, creating ITV plc.

TABLE 3

Television news broadcasters and producers

Broadcaster Share of UK TV news viewing (in October 2006)[66] Major shareholders Other media interests include
BBC BBC1—50.6%
BBC2—4.6%
BBC News (formally BBC News 24)—5.2%
The BBC is a Public Corporation established by Royal Charter. BBC Radio—BBC national radio stations have 47% of total radio listening share
BBC online
BBC Worldwide (commercial arm of the BBC—manages content sales, product sales and commercial channels)
BBC World News (the corporation's commercial, international 24 hour news channel).
ITV plcITV1—26.8% ITV plc's biggest shareholder is currently BSkyB, which owns a 17.9% stake (although it has been ordered to reduce its stake to no more than 7.5%). 40% stake in Independent Television News (ITN); 5.6% of Scottish Media Group; and 75% of GMTV[67].
Channel 44.5%Established by statute as a public corporation.   
Five2.8%Channel 5 is a wholly owned subsidiary of the RTL Group.

RTL is majority owned by the Bertelsmann Group.
RTL Group also operates television and radio stations in Germany, France, Spain, Belgium, and the Netherlands Bertelsmann is a privately held stock corporation.
The Bertelsmann Group is one of the world's largest media companies. Its other global media assets include: Random House, the world's largest book-publishing group; Gruner + Jahr, Europe's biggest magazine publisher; and Freemantle Media (a TV production company).
BSkyB4.9%BSkyB's largest shareholder, News Corporation, has management control and a controlling interest in the company (a 39% shareholding)[68]. Sky News Radio provides national and international news bulletins to stations owned by three major radio groups: Global Radio, Guardian Media Group Radio, and Virgin Radio.
ITN ITN makes national news for ITV and Channel 4 (see above) ITV (40%), Reuters (20%),
Daily Mail & General Trust (20%)
United Business Media (20%)[69].
ITN Source (video content sales); ITN On (mobile, radio, online content); ITN Factual (documentaries); and ITN Consulting (media consultancy). 20% of Independent Radio News Ltd (ITN is the contracted news provider for IRN).



Radio news ownership

167.  National radio news is produced by three companies. The BBC produces bulletins for its own channels and Independent Radio News and Sky News Radio supply the commercial radio sector. Independent Radio News is a private limited company with three major shareholders: GCap Media (54%), Bauer (22%) and ITN (20%). It provides national and international news bulletins to both GCap Media and Bauer Radio. Sky News Radio is a division of BSkyB. It provides national and international news bulletins to Virgin Radio, UTV Radio (including talkSPORT), and Global Radio (including LBC). Local radio news is produced by the individual stations, although greater pooling of news gathering resources has taken place through the establishment of regional news hubs.

168.  Consolidation of ownership of local commercial radio stations has been marked. For example, the four biggest radio companies now have 77% of the commercial radio market (see table four).

TABLE 4

Radio news broadcasters

Radio Group Share of total radio listening share Share of commercial radio listening [70] Major shareholders/owners Other media interests
BBC national radio
BBC local/ regional radio
47%[71]
9.9%[72]
n/aThe BBC is a public corporation established by Royal Charter. See table three
GCap Media plc12%[73] 29%In June 2008, Global Radio completed a takeover of GCap Media plc. However, pending completion of an OFT merger investigation, the companies will be maintained as separate entities. GCap Media owns 54% of Independent Radio News[74].
GCap Media also owns Digital One, the first national digital multiplex, in addition to 39% of all local multiplexes[75].
Bauer Radio10.3%[76] 25%Bauer Radio Ltd is the wholly owned subsidiary of German private company, H Bauer. Bauer was originally a European magazine publisher and produces over 200 magazines in 15 countries. It also owns 22% of Independent Radio News.
Global Radio5%[77] 12%Global Radio is a UK private limited company and a wholly owned subsidiary of GRG. 87.7% GRG's shares are held indirectly by Tabor family trusts. The remaining approximately 12.3 % of GRG's shares are held by the Global Radio Directors.[78]
In June 2008, Global Radio completed a £375m takeover of GCap Media plc. However, pending completion of an OFT merger investigation, the companies will be maintained as separate entities.
GMG Radio4.6%[79] 11%GMG Radio is a wholly owned subsidiary of Guardian Media Group (which is owned by the Scott Trust).
UTV Radio (Inc. TalkSport)3.2%[80] 7.6%UTV Radio is a wholly owned subsidiary of UTV Media (a UK plc)
Virgin Radio Network1.5%[81] 3.7%Times Infotainment Media Ltd (a wholly owned subsidiary of Times of India Group). Times Now (a 24 hour English language news channel, in partnership with Reuters); it also has numerous newspaper, magazine and radio assets in India.


Online news ownership

169.  As discussed in chapter two, traditional news providers have used their market position and newsgathering infrastructure to create a strong online presence. They have been able to transfer their dominance of the mainstream media to the internet and in the process attract an ever bigger audience. This is shown by the fact that UK citizens predominantly use sites that are run by existing news providers. In one study, Ofcom found that of the top ten news websites by unique user, four were run by internet based organisations. These were Google News (a news aggregator site), Yahoo! News, AOL News, and MSN News (all sites that rely on news agency reports)[82].

The causes of consolidation

170.  It is clear that consolidation provides opportunities for making savings through sharing resources. As discussed in chapter two, most sectors of the news media are struggling to cope with declining revenues from both advertising and sales, and are looking for ways to make savings in order to remain profitable. Professor Richard Collins, Professor of Media Studies at the Open University, put this to us:

171.  Those who argue for a relaxation of the rules on media ownership assert that consolidation allows savings to be made through economies of scale, without cutting spend on actual journalism. Although this argument was refuted by others (see paras 179 to 183 below) it was put forcefully by many witnesses.

172.  Russell Whitehair from The Newspaper Society told us that consolidation of the local and regional newspaper industry "brings extra resource, it brings economies of scale but it does not detract from the focus that those companies will have in serving each local community" (Q 626). Peter Wright, the Editor of The Mail on Sunday, said that his paper benefited from being part of a large group because they were able to share printing presses which would be very expensive if they were a stand alone business (Q 510). Rebekah Wade, the Editor of The Sun, said that the journalism at her paper benefited from having an owner who could afford to invest in new printing presses and give her good budgets for journalism. She suggested this was particular unusual at a time when other newspaper groups were cutting editorial budgets (Q 1476).

173.  Simon Kelner, the Editor of The Independent, argued that editorially there are many advantages to being underpinned by a large multi-national media organisation "There are many benefits for our papers around the world in being able to use the journalism that is in The Independent. It is not just a one-way street; we quite often use reports from our papers in a remote part of South Africa, for instance, or a political piece from Ireland or Australia. It is a two-way street in that respect" (Q 670).

174.  The ITV companies argued in advance of both the 1996 and 2003 relaxations in the ownership rules governing Channel 3, that consolidation would allow for a more efficient and streamlined commercial television channel, better able to invest in original programmes and thus meet the challenge from a burgeoning number of cable and satellite channels.

175.  The radio industry is currently campaigning for a relaxation of its complex ownership rules. Radio Centre told us that "Removing the current mono-sector ownership restrictions on radio will allow Commercial Radio groups to seek superior economies of scale through consolidation and the sharing of resources, thus safeguarding their ongoing investment in the content which listeners value at a time when competition for advertising revenue has never been fiercer" (p 402). Radio Centre does not, however, wish to see a relaxation in the rules governing mergers between newspapers and radio stations in the same local area (p 402).

176.  In relation to radio news a trend of particular interest is "news-hubbing", which is the sharing of news resources amongst local stations in a similar area that have shared ownership. Radio Centre argued that, "Clearly news-hubbing is made much easier when stations are under concentrated ownership … there is no evidence that balance and diversity of opinion have suffered as a result of these smaller groups' news-hubbing arrangements. With companies of this size, sharing news operations allows for a higher quality of news production and more formalised editorial structures, with anecdotal reports suggesting that this tends to reduce the incidence of mistakes with regard to fairness, accuracy and impartiality. In addition, common ownership helps stations to gain better access to external content, revenue and marketing opportunities" (p 405).

177.  While several witnesses noted the business benefits brought by consolidation within sectors of the media, there is less evidence that cross-media consolidation brings similar benefits. Charles Sinclair, the Chief Executive of DMGT, told us:

    "we have owned a variety of media assets in television, radio, newspapers and magazines, in the way we run things we have been rather disappointed in the cross-media benefits. They have been notably absent in any type of editorial synergy. Our television assets, when we owned them, never had anything to do with our papers. Even our national papers editorially are very separate, and all they really share are printing presses and distribution systems. They even have separate advertising sales forces and completely separate editorial groups. We do share printing with the regional newspapers, but that is about as far as it gets. We never got anything out of our very limited ownership of local radio. So cross-media I would say was an aspiration which broadly, in our case, did not deliver much in terms of commercial benefit" (Q 2596).

The case against consolidation

178.  In the light of the evidence above, should the consolidation of the news media be a matter of concern? We heard a number of reasons why it might be.

THE EFFECT ON LOCALISM AND INVESTMENT IN JOURNALISM

179.  Local journalism was an area many witnesses felt was particularly at risk when large national or global companies bought small locally-owned businesses. The National Union of Journalists argued that the consolidation of local and regional newspapers in the UK has affected the nature of their content:

180.  While there are benefits from economies of scale such as shared printing, the logistics of sharing can impact on quality. For example if a local newspaper group has centralised printing resources this will impact on those publications in its range which are printed last or based furthest from the centralised printer. In some cases, these publications will have to be printed a day in advance which will impact on the immediacy and relevance of stories.

181.  Additional evidence comes from the United States, where the effect of consolidation on localism is a matter of great debate. It is perhaps an indicator of what could happen in this country. In the 1990s, the US government significantly relaxed the radio ownership rules. As a result, large multi-national companies started buying many local radio stations. For a decade Clearchannel was the industry giant, owning nearly triple the number of stations of its nearest rival. To many in the industry, the influence of multi-national companies was a worrying development. Critics claimed that unique local programming was being jeopardised by greater homogenisation of opinion, news and music. Clearchannel was at the forefront of public criticism that national programming was subsuming local interests. For example, in Minot, North Dakota in 2002, the New York Times claimed that the local Clearchannel station did not report a train derailment of toxic chemicals. This was widely attributed to centralisation of news production.

182.  In 2002, the US Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) sought to relax further US ownership limits at the local level. This proved controversial. Two of the FCC commissioners published dissenting views and several parties sought court reviews of various aspects of the decision. In 2003 the changes were blocked by the courts. During our visit to the US we met staff of the FCC who are engaged in another review of ownership rules. Studies commissioned by the FCC have indicated that as companies expand, so does diversity within each market. However, during our visit we also met representatives of the Consumers' Union which is one of the bodies that sought to block the FCC's deregulatory proposals in 2003. The Consumers' Union have accused the FCC of fixing the design of the studies on the effect of ownership. They claim to have found FCC e-mails detailing which academics to employ if particular study results were wanted (see appendix four).

183.  Several parties, including some industry representatives in the US, took the line that consolidation actually had the effect of reducing investment in original journalism as new owners sought to maximise returns to investors and shareholders. Darius Walker, the New York bureau chief of CNN, told us that consolidation has been bad for diversity and quality. He said that the drive for money and more profitability invariably meant that news and research were sacrificed, reducing quality and the number of voices available. Leonard Downie Jr of the Washington Post made the same point about "chain owned newspapers" that cut back on journalism to maintain their profits. In their oral evidence, the National Union of Journalists countered the Newspaper Society evidence arguing that, for example, Newsquest had reduced its editorial staff by 2000 in the last three years as it consolidated its ownership of local papers (Q 775).

CROSS-PROMOTION

184.  We received evidence on how cross-promotion of other parts of the business within large organisations can affect the impartiality of news.

185.  In 2001 the US organisation, the Project for Excellence in Journalism, published a study that found media outlets tend to cover their parent companies products much more than others, but only declare the link 15% of the time. For example, CBS was then owned by Viacom, whose holdings ranged from MTV, Simon & Schuster book publishers to Paramount studios and beyond. The study found that the networks' morning magazine news programmes featured more stories about their own parent company's wares than they did about any other single company. CBS was nearly twice as likely to carry Viacom products as ABC and NBC combined. The coverage ranged from interviews with contestants on other CBS shows to interviews with the stars of Paramount movies.

186.  No similar study has been done within UK broadcasting but Professor Purvis, Professor of Television Journalism at City University, suggested that based on his experiences television companies like to report their own successes (Q 734). In the print industry, there have been numerous instances of owners exploiting their newspapers for commercial advantage. In a recent book, Nick Davies wrote how "Tiny Rowland repeatedly meddled in the inner workings of The Observer to win political favours in Africa, where his company, Lonrho, had vast business interests. Robert Maxwell did the same to score political advantage to assist his investments, particularly in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe"[83]. One of the few systematic studies of cross-promotion was conducted in the run-up to Sky's satellite television's launch in opposition to British Satellite Broadcasting in 1988/9. Independent research found that News International newspapers—owned, like Sky, by News Corporation—devoted over seven times as much space to promotional events surrounding the launch than other national newspapers[84]. The BBC also devotes significant time to trailing its programmes across all its own platforms—television, radio and online.

187.  The other side of the coin is news outlets not covering stories that might be contrary to their owner's business interests. It is widely suspected that this is the case, even though every serving editor we interviewed denied that they would have any reticence about running a newsworthy story even if it was damaging to their parent corporation. Ex-editors were more forthcoming. For example, Andrew Neil, who edited The Sunday Times from 1983 to 1994, told us that "no newspaper group in this country, none, covers its own affairs well" (Q 1684).

188.  He went on to give a very vivid example of what happened to him as Editor of The Sunday Times when he engaged in journalism that was harmful to his owner's business interests. In 1994, The Sunday Times published a series of investigations exposing alleged corruption by the Malaysian government. As a result of these stories, Andrew Neil claimed that the Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohammed was "furious and made it clear that the chances of Star TV (a News Corporation satellite-TV service in Asia) being allowed into Malaysia were less than zero"[85]. This resulted in Rupert Murdoch telling him not to run any more articles on the matter.

189.  Andrew Neil resigned soon after but when we asked what would have happened had he wanted to stay, he told us "I think my position would have become untenable over time, over quite quick time. I would then have ceased to be on the same planet as him on a serious issue, one of business interests, and he would have found ways of making life pretty intolerable for the editor. It would not have been a case of just being fired right away, but it would have been a case of money drying up, budgets not appearing" (Q 1678).

190.  Andrew Neil summarised what this meant for journalism in a big corporation when it challenged business interests: "Here was The Sunday Times in the middle of one of the biggest disputes and journalistic investigations in 1994 … every other newspaper and media outlet was rushing to catch up with this superb piece of investigative journalism, and our proprietor found it boring. I think you can only draw your own conclusions" (Q 1681).

191.  Another example, this time from the publishing sector, relates to HarperCollins' 1998 decision to cancel its publication of Chris Patten's memoirs of his time as Governor of Hong Kong. HarperCollins is owned by News Corporation, which was in the process of establishing businesses in China, including the satellite broadcaster Star TV. HarperCollins initially said it cancelled the book because it was "boring". But then an internal memo from a HarperCollins official surfaced, citing Rupert Murdoch's concern about "negative aspects of publication." After Chris Patten sued, the publishing house "unreservedly apologized" and admitted the allegations that the book was boring were "untrue"[86].

RESTRICTING MARKET ENTRY AND DIMINISHING PLURALISM

192.  We heard arguments about access to the mass media. One argument suggested that a potentially damaging consequence of consolidation was that it raised barriers to market entry. This was a point made by Professor Curran, Professor of Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London, "concentration … matters enormously in terms of restricting entry into the market. It is very, very difficult to set up a daily paper or indeed launch a major television channel because of the established power of incumbents" (Q 730). This argument was also articulated by Lord Puttnam "I would put it to you that cartel behaviour is the natural instinct of incumbent organisations. We have very poor regulation in unravelling and dealing with and punishing cartel behaviour" (Q 2113).

193.  We are conscious that for many in the industry, the new opportunities afforded by broadband, the internet, convergence, blogging, social networking sites, mobile phones and other forms of instant electronic communication invalidate anxieties about media concentration. Several industry witnesses made this point to us although, interestingly, none of the citizen groups, academics, regulators or Government ministers did so. We agree that technological developments do offer many more opportunities for democratic participation and communication than ever before, and that such opportunities should be welcomed and encouraged. However, we are satisfied by the data presented to us and summarised in chapter two that the traditional mass media still command the greatest attention and greatest power, and will continue to do so for some time. We are also conscious that the new information technologies rely considerably on the existing mass media for original journalism.

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MEDIA OWNERS AND POLITICIANS

194.  The fewer owners, the greater their potential political power. Newspapers have sought to influence politics since time immemorial and that has not changed. We took evidence from Alastair Campbell, Director of Communications and Strategy for the former Prime Minister Tony Blair 2001-03 and Chief Press Secretary 1997-2001, and from Sir Christopher Meyer, Government Spokesman and Press Secretary to the former Prime Minister John Major from 1994 to 1996. Both witnesses were clear that senior politicians consider the press an important tool in shaping public opinion and work hard to try to ensure positive coverage. This suggests that there is a danger in allowing one individual to amass too much control of the media, in case they use that power to influence government policy.

195.  The public may find it easier to trust the relationship between their elected representatives and the media if governments were less secretive about releasing information in this area. Unfortunately, it has proved very hard to elicit information about the relationship between senior ministers and senior members of the press. Various Members of both Houses of Parliament have tabled written questions asking for details of meetings between Ministers and particular media proprietors but have failed to elicit the required information. Requests under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 have been similarly unsuccessful. One member of this House, Lord Avebury, sought information about the times and dates of Tony Blair's meetings with Rupert Murdoch and Richard Desmond, but was refused answers for several years. Both Downing Street and the Freedom of Information Officer at the Cabinet Office said that the release of the information would be prejudicial to the effective conduct of public affairs. Lord Avebury was in the process of taking his case to the Information Tribunal when the Cabinet Office chose to release the information the day after Mr Blair resigned.

196.  In his written evidence, Mr Tim Nichols, a former MP's ex-researcher, detailed the attempts of the MP he worked for to acquire information about such meetings. Various written parliamentary questions were tabled, but answers to these questions were refused under exemptions 2 and 7 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information. In his evidence, Mr Nichols points out that "Exemption 2 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information covers internal discussion and advice, while exemption 7 covers the effective management and operations of public services. The citing of these exemptions appears to entail that national newspaper editors and proprietors are involved in internal government discussions, including on policy options, and have a particular role relevant to the effective management and operations of public services (p 590)."

197.  While reluctance on the part of Ministers to publicise their meetings with proprietors and editors is obviously not helpful in boosting confidence about the relationship between politicians and the press, there is a wider point to be made. All senior politicians, in both the Government and opposition, have an interest in having good relations with the media. The most important aspect from the public's perspective is that such relationships are as open and transparent as possible. We take the view that the relationship between policy makers and the media is a legitimate area of public interest. We therefore propose that politicians in all parties are open and candid about their meetings with media owners and editors.

Conclusion

198.  Like other industries, consolidation in the media has moved on apace over the last twenty years. The commercial pressures are clear enough. The financial synergies, for example from merging headquarters' functions, can provide a strong argument for bringing companies together. The trend has been most obvious in both independent television and regional and local newspapers. One argument in favour of consolidation of local and regional newspaper companies is that the savings achieved mean that titles that were perhaps under threat of closure can be maintained, thereby preserving diversity of voice.

199.  Consolidation brings savings and in theory those savings can be invested in improved journalism. In practice, this does not always seem to have been the result. For example, ITV is trying to cut back their regional and local news coverage. Consolidation can also lead to newspapers being printed early, at some distance from the local market and, as the National Union of Journalists argue, with smaller editorial budgets.

200.  Another aspect of consolidation has been the way that companies have expanded across the media. As in many other sectors of the economy, independent, stand-alone companies have become fewer. News Corporation owns not only four national newspapers through News International, but also has an almost 40% stake in BSkyB, as well as owning the publisher HarperCollins plus significant international news outlets. Gannett, the American company, which controls nearly 15% of the UK regional newspaper market, also owns daily newspapers and 23 television stations overseas. Bertelsmann, the privately run German group, owns UK broadcaster, Five, as well as television stations across Europe and the publisher Random House. The Pearson Group owns the Financial Times, the publisher Penguin and 50% of The Economist. While the Daily Mail and General Trust and Trinity Mirror own national newspapers, free newspapers and large groups of regional newspapers as well.

201.  Locally, nationally and internationally, the news media are becoming concentrated in fewer hands, and that brings with it risks in a democracy. Consolidation can reduce the number of voices available to the public; it can mean that disproportionate power to influence government and the political process is placed in a few hands. That is the risk and that is why we believe there remains a need for a special regime to cover media mergers.


43   Jan-Jun 2007-ABC figures taken from the Guardian Media Guide 2008, edited by Janine Gibson, pg. 24. Back

44   News Corporation Annual Report, 2007, pg. 83. Back

45   News Corporation Annual Report, 2007. Back

46   Daily Mail and General Trust Annual Report, 2007, pg. 99. Back

47   Ibid. Back

48   Daily Mail and General Trust Annual Report, 2007. Back

49   Trinity-Mirror Annual Report, 2007, pg. 71. Back

50   Ibid. Back

51   Ibid. Back

52   Northern and Shell Annual Report, 2007. Back

53   Guardian Media Group Annual Report, 2007. Back

54   Independent News and Media Annual Report, 2007. Back

55   Ibid. Back

56   Pearson Annual Report and Accounts 2007, pg. 71. Back

57   Pearson Annual Report and Accounts 2007, pg. 102. Back

58   PPA figures taken from the Guardian Media Guide 2008, edited by Janine Gibson, pg. 29. Back

59   Ibid. Back

60   Ibid. Back

61   Ibid. Back

62   Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Northamptonshire and Suffolk. Back

63   Berkshire, Hampshire, Kent, and Surrey. Back

64   Northern Cumbria, Isle of Man and South-West Scotland. Back

65   Wales and West of England. Back

66   New News, Future News: The challenges for television news after digital switchover, Ofcom, 4 July 2007; figure 3.2. Analysis is across all hours. Back

67   ITV Annual Report, 2007, pgs.97-98. Back

68   News Corporation Annual Report 2007, pg. 83. Back

69   www.itn.co.uk/news/corp_board.html Back

70   RAJAR data, all individuals 15+ for period October 2007 to March 2008. Back

71   RAJAR data, all individuals 15+ for period January to March 2008. Back

72   RAJAR data, all individuals 15+ for period January to March 2008. Back

73   RAJAR data, all individuals 15+ for period October 2007 to March 2008. Back

74   GCap Media Annual report, pg. 68. Back

75   Multiplexes are system for broadcasting radio transmissions. Back

76   RAJAR data, all individuals 15+ for period October 2007 to March 2008. Back

77   RAJAR data, all individuals 15+ for period October 2007 to March 2008. Back

78   Recommended cash acquisition of GCap Media plc by Global Radio Acquisitions Limited a wholly-owned subsidiary of Global Radio UK Limited to be effected by means of a Scheme of Arrangement under section 895 of the Companies Act 2006, pg. 70 (www.thisisglobal.com/radio/downloads/gemini-scheme-document.pdf) Back

79   RAJAR data, all individuals 15+ for period October 2007 to March 2008. Back

80   RAJAR data, all individuals 15+ for period October 2007 to March 2008. Back

81   RAJAR data, all individuals 15+ for period October 2007 to March 2008. Back

82   New News, Future News: The challenges for television news after digital switchover, Ofcom, 4 July 2007; fig 3.11. Back

83   Nick Davies, Flat Earth News, Chatto & Windus, 2008, pg. 19. Back

84   Events and issues relevant to competition in satellite television between British Satellite Broadcasting and News International, The European Institute for the Media, Manchester University, April 1989. Back

85   Lessons from a Former Murdoch man, Andrew Neil, Condé Nast Portfolio, July 30 2007. Back

86   Steve Stecklow and Aaron O. Patrick in London, Martin Peers in Sydney, Australia, and Andrew Higgins in New York; Calling the shots: In Murdoch's Career, A Hand on the News His Aggressive Style Can Blur Boundaries; by Wall Street Journal, June 5, 2007. Back


 
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