Will a free market for news media harm impartiality?

December 3, 2009

BRITAIN/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?


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What impartiality? The BBC may go through the motions of giving the parties equal time. It even criticises Labour, but that is because it is to the left of Labour. For as long as I can remember the BBC has been getting away with pushing left wing policies, apparently without breaching the current rules, so they simply don’t work. Mandelson has a vested interest in maintaining a system in which the dominant media player in the UK despises every small-c conservative value, and constantly ridicules and demeans conservatism.

Posted by Osomec | Report as abusive

It’s not the so called impartiality of state sponsored news that matters to Murdoch – it’s the fact that it’s free. Murdoch wants the internet to add to his profit stream. He suspects that free news will make this difficult. Advertisers pay far less for internet advertising making it more difficult to fund internet news than for a free newspaper. Murdoch would need to have free news on the internet banned worldwide to win. People see the internet as a free resource. If he does charge for news it’s likely people will turn to more rough and ready amateur free sites which will report news at it happens. Analysis by professional journalists including political analysis pushing a party costs money and therefore will not make it to the internet. This loss will be felt far more by politicians than the public. The public will not pay good money for political analysis any more than they would pay to watch a party political broadcast. The younger generation are far more tuned into ipods than newspapers and Murdoch probably knows that newspapers are a dying breed in the long term. This does not mean that Murdock will be top dog in the new internet media which will have different characteristics. Long political dissertations are hardly compatible with small mobile devices and the shorter attention spans of younger members of the public. The market will be totally different, and more likely met by upstart new companies working on wafer thin margins.

Posted by skeptic | Report as abusive