17th March 2017
Before I begin, I would just like to declare my position upfront on this subject. I am a founding member of the Guardian and I have participated in the New Internationalist crowdfunding community share offer.
Why the Media Matters
Up until a decade ago, I was very much under a set opinion. I believed that newspapers and news broadcasters could only print and show stories which were factually accurate. I believed that there was a strong regulator in place who would pull up any news organisation who showed unfair bias or failed to show ‘facts’ in their stories, which could be backed up by reliable sources. In truth I therefore believed that regardless of what paper you were reading, or which news channel you watched that you were being presented with facts and that it didn’t really matter where you got your news from – it would be the same story, just presented slightly differently.
I have since realised that I was wrong. Unfortunately, despite being in education for so many years, we aren’t taught a lot of stuff that really matters – like who owns our newspapers and their reasons for doing so. Here are a few interesting statistics:
- Three companies own 70% of our national newspapers.
- Two billionaires; Rupert Murdoch and Lord Rothermere own two of the above companies and between them control over 50% of national newspapers sold.
- In terms of local newspapers, just six companies own 80% of local newspaper titles (for example: the Manchester Evening News, Bristol Post, Liverpool Echo and Nottingham Post are all owned by the Trinity Mirror group. Can we therefore rely on this one organisation to provide local trusted news stories?)
- Further information on media ownership is available here.
Big deal right – who cares who owns what paper? Did you know that most newspapers make a financial LOSS each year? For example, Rupert Murdoch (mentioned above) owns News Group Newspapers, which are comprised of The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times. News Group Newspapers made a loss of £62.8 million up to July 2016.
Even papers like the Guardian reported a loss of £69 million for the last financial year. The first rule of business is to make a profit. News organisations are ultimately businesses as well, so how and why would they sustain such losses?
Let’s take a look at Rupert Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers who made a £62.8 million loss. Rupert Murdoch is a billionaire and also owns Fox News in the US, as well as a large shareholding in Sky UK. To put it simply, he doesn’t need his loss-making newspapers, they don’t contribute directly to his wealth. However, they do give him one thing that has served him really well – POWER. The Sun has accurately backed the winning party of each UK general election since 1979.
As such, when parties want to get elected, they often go grovelling to Rupert Murdoch. Tony Blair was a case in point who sought Murdoch’s backing and consequently won the 1997 election (yes, the Sun backed Blair). In return for his support, Murdoch gets unprecedented access directly with the Prime Minister.
This is the primary reason why so many tabloid owners keep their papers going, even though they are making a loss, because it gives them a mouthpiece and it gives them power and influence – after all what government would want to anger the owner of a paper read by a million or more people? Would it surprise you to learn that five of the most read newspapers are owned by four billionaires who don’t live in the UK (Source: War of Words conference)?
This is a crucial topic because newspaper owners have a monopoly and use their papers to influence people’s thoughts and opinions on a wide range of subjects. Some of their owners have close ties to government, and can therefore manipulate people’s opinions either in favour of government policies or against them.
Tabloids are Toxic
Tabloids tend to pay little attention to things like ‘facts’. Instead they focus on sensationalism, and engaging people’s emotions. What better way to do that than blow a story out of context and show heavy bias to one side, to make people angry? This is an issue because millions of people read tabloid papers every day and the Sun and the Daily Mail have the largest print newspaper circulations in the country.
We are also contending with the advent of ‘fake news’, and I think we need to ask ourselves a question: If tabloids aren’t presenting facts, then what are they presenting? If you think about it in this respect, perhaps tabloids can also be thought of as fake news.
But tabloids have more than that to account for. For example, Rupert Murdoch’s now defunct News of the World were involved with phone hacking (including the phones of innocent dead victims, such as 13 year old Millie Dowler). Is this moral and ethical behaviour? This is the level that tabloids will stoop too. If this story interests you, I would advise checking out the Hacked Off campaign.
I also think that tabloids are similar to gossip magazines in that they glorify unrealistic body images and expectations, which have caused much suffering for both women and men. It’s not right that we are aspiring to photoshopped images. Yet I think you would be hard pushed to find many tabloids that don’t have good-looking or half-naked people somewhere inside. What are the long term benefits of viewing these images? Can’t think of any? Maybe there is a reason for that.
Tabloids have also started spewing hatred and disinformation. It doesn’t surprise me to learn that the Daily Mail once supported Hitler. That paper, like many other tabloids is full of anti-immigrant, anti-kindness intolerance, which again has little factual basis. These papers are shaping people’s views using emotive language and sensationalist stories which skew or completely ignore facts, and that isn’t right.
In order to start fighting back against this tide of hatred and lies, new campaigns such as Stop Funding are trying to encourage companies from advertising in tabloids such as the Daily Mail. I would advise supporting them if you can.
It’s worth looking into who owns which papers you read. For example you may be surprised to learn that the Daily Mail Group owns the Metro newspaper. We can then make judgements about whether we feel it is right to pick up copies of these papers, given what we know about the owners and their bias.
In the UK, BBC News and Sky News are the two biggest broadcasters. We already know that Sky is part-owned by Rupert Murdoch (who coincidentally also owns Fox News in the US – another unreliable broadcaster), so Sky News is worth watching with a pinch of salt and a dose of healthy scepticism.
BBC News is committed to the policy of neutrality. This may sound good – for example we get two sides to every story. However, sometimes there are more sides and sometimes there are less. My biggest frustration with this channel has been in regards to climate change, where time and time again they bring on a climate change denialist or skeptic to argue against a scientist – who is quoting data and facts! Whilst the skeptic has nothing to go on, they are simply there to sow the seed of doubt in people’s minds. It’s long been time for the BBC to drop this stupidity – 97% of climate scientists are in agreement and they have the data which shows that things are only getting worse. After all, scientists once believed the earth was flat, but data has shown us this isn’t the case. If you carry on bringing in climate change denialists, then I think it’s only right that you bring in ‘flat earth’ believers every time you show a google earth image (i.e. any image which shows the earth as a sphere). Wouldn’t that be stupid? It’s also worth noting that broadcasters such as BBC News are subject to ‘churnalism’, where the journalists don’t have much time to get a story together, but still need to churn out news. This means that the stories may not give you much context as the journalists simply don’t have enough time to get everything done.
TV news is still how most people receive their news. So we either need a strong regulator with teeth that will monitor and hold these broadcasters to account. Or the broadcasters need to shape up, which is very unlikely. Also Rupert Murdoch is currently trying to buy Sky outright, so Sky News may get a shake-up for the worse.
Climate Change and the Media
The media has done a terrible job of communicating climate change. Yes it’s a complex subject. But it doesn’t help that newspapers like The Telegraph have employed climate change sceptics like James Delingpole to write for them. Others report on new journal papers, but fail to give background context and as such it creates a lot of uncertainty in people’s minds. Then you’ve got broadcasters like the BBC who pull in sceptics to spout lies and it all becomes very messy and depressing. No paper has been perfect, but the Guardian has done more than most to get the story out there.
What’s the Solution?
No news organisation is perfect. But some are miles better than others. The Guardian is a bit like a beacon of light in a dark world. Unlike other newspapers which hide behind a paywall online, all of the Guardian’s stories are free to read. There are very few topics that their journalists don’t cover, and they even have a ‘Opinion’ section, whereby journalists can write stories on subjects that interest them and give their own views (which may be different to that of the paper).
Importantly, I think the Guardian also has one of the best climate change and environment teams of any news organisation that I’ve come across. This is how I came to start reading the paper, and this is why I am a paying member of the paper. I believe in this day and age, that it’s important to support a paper that seeks to report the truth and expose stories that matter to all of us. No the Guardian is not perfect and there are plenty of articles I disagree with (including those they let Tony Blair write), but in spite of this, I think you would struggle to find another paper of this size who is committed to independent journalism. It’s worth noting that the Guardian is not owned by an individual, but is supported by the Scott Trust, which was set up to sustain the paper into perpetuity. More info here.
If you want to know more about becoming a member, more information is available here.
At the War of Words conference, I also came across a news magazine that was new to me. They are the New Internationalist. I have since become acquainted with their work and they seem similar to the Guardian in terms of their approach, but have a more global outlook. New Internationalist have recently launched a community share offer, whereby members of the public can become a shareholder in the magazine. If this idea appeals to you, more information is available here.
I would encourage you to think long and hard about which newspapers you buy and those that you read online. I think one of the biggest changes we can all make is to stop visiting tabloid websites such as the Daily Mail website, and to stop sharing Daily Mail and Sun videos and links on social media. Their power lies in their readership, and if that diminishes, they have nothing.
Media Ownership – http://www.mediareform.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Who_owns_the_UK_media-report_plus_appendix1.pdf
News Group Newspapers Losses – https://www.ft.com/content/8ac2bda6-d2ac-11e6-b06b-680c49b4b4c0
Guardian Newspaper Losses – https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/jul/27/guardian-losses-members
The Sun and Election Victories – https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2009/oct/05/sun-labour-newspapers-support-elections
Rupert Murdoch access to Prime Ministers – https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/feb/05/rupert-murdoch-access-to-downing-street-theresa-may-david-cameron
Hacked Off Campaign – http://hackinginquiry.org/
Stop Funding Hate – http://stopfundinghate.org.uk/
The Guardian and the Scott Trust – https://www.theguardian.com/membership/2016/oct/24/scott-trust-guardian-owner-journalism-newspaper
Guardian Membership – https://membership.theguardian.com/
New Internationalist Community Share Offer – http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/new-internationalist?utm_medium=ni-www&utm_source=cso-widget-button-link