Will a free market for news media harm impartiality?
Business Secretary Peter Mandelson took a subtle dig at the Murdoch News empire this week when he said that some in the commercial sector want to maintain an “iron grip” on pay TV and “to erode the commitment to impartiality — in other words, to fill British airwaves with more Fox-style news.”
“They believe that profit alone should drive the gathering and circulation of news rather than allowing a role for what they call ‘state-sponsored journalism’,” he added, during the second reading of the Digital Economy Britain bill.
James Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corp in Europe and Asia, attacked UK broadcasting policy in an August lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival, saying it had created a dominant BBC which was threatening independent journalism.
The government regulates media industries “with relish,” he said, and had created unaccountable institutions such as the BBC Trust, Channel 4 — which has a public-service remit but is advertising-funded — and regulator Ofcom.
“Dumping free, state-sponsored news on the market makes it incredibly difficult for journalism to flourish on the Internet,” he said.
Speaking in support of public broadcasting, Mandelson said that the bill will transform Ofcom, the media regulator, so that it can ensure the media market has the “right mix of impartial and national and local news”.
“Ofcom represents an important means of securing media standards, strong public service content and investment in the future infrastructure of the digital economy,” Mandelson said.
He also took a swipe at the Conservatives, saying: “In my view, Ofcom should be strengthened, not emasculated as some Conservative spokesmen have suggested.”
Are Mandelson’s concerns over commercial news media justified? Will a free market for news media harm impartiality?