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Press Release: The Mission of Media in an Age of Monopoly

26th May 2016

  • ResPublica

GOOGLE TAX NEEDED TO MAKE SOCIAL MEDIA PAY FOR NEWS

 

Strict embargo: 00:01 26th May 2016

 

Google should be made to pay for the news it takes from other media outlets and promotes on its own website, independent think tank ResPublica has found.

In a ResPublica essay Virtuous Media: How to improve plurality and transparency, author Justin Schlosberg says a levy on the billions made by Google and other online giants such as Facebook, which take newsfeeds from broadcasters and newspapers, could be used to build a fund to help an ailing journalism industry in this country.

The essay also calls for the BBC to be less centralised and for editorial independence to be introduced across the corporation in a bid to stop output which could be influenced by government.

Furthermore, ResPublica has found the closeness of politicians, media executives and senior journalists across the UK has not been tackled post-Leveson and needs to be made far more transparent with a better record of meetings between ministers and media executives.

Dr Justin Schlosberg, said: “Google gains traffic by using stories generated by the media but it pays nothing for the articles. At first glance this seems okay because readers can clearly see the story source but for journalism and the media industry this is proving harmful. More and more people are turning to a single source for their stories and if that single source is Google, it is not contributing to the cost of creating the journalism they use.

“Further bad news has been seen with job losses and cuts leading newspapers and broadcasters to reduce their coverage in recent years. At the same time the concentration of ownership has increased, not just with Rupert Murdoch’s empire but the fact that just four companies account for over 70 % of the local newspaper market across the UK.”

ResPublica believes Google and similar platforms should pay a 1% levy on revenue to fund an independent Media Plurality Board that would allocate the money to support long-form and local journalism across all platforms and in all sectors.

In the UK alone, Google generated over £7 billion of revenues in 2015 with a search market share of over 90%. Facebook registered £105 million of UK revenues in 2014 and commands more than 80% of the social networking market.

Director of ResPublica, Phillip Blond, said: “There is clearly a public interest in sustaining local, regional and investigative journalism. The most logical and achievable means of support is via a nominal levy on the revenues of large scale news intermediaries in online search and social networking, including Google and Facebook.

“A virtuous and transparent media is needed across a range of platforms and outlets in order to provide society with a rounded outlook on the world around it.”

ResPublica argues that while BBC production must remain not-for-profit and entirely in public hands, decentralisation of both management structure and delivery is essential.

This would mean that different parts of the corporation – such as the Today programme and News at Ten – would operate independently, allowing them to pursue different news agendas, rather than following centralised guidelines.

Dr Schlosberg said: “Charter Renewal at the moment threatens, for the first time in the BBC’s history, to give a government appointee editorial responsibility for all of its output.

“If a government did seek to censor or control the BBC’s agenda, it would be far more difficult if it had to contend with a network of relatively autonomous entities with their own editorial and governance boards more directly accountable to license fee payers.”

The ResPublica essay also calls for enhanced transparency for meetings and relations between senior media and political figures as recommended in the Leveson Report. This could be done simply by recording all meetings in one document, rather than by department. ResPublica says the UK Government should lobby for such changes at the EU levels as well, to reflect the globalised nature of a lot of media.

Dr Schlosberg said: “The risk is not so much that stories are compromised but rather the integrity of policymaking, especially media policy. Examples include the unabated frequency of meetings between Murdoch and senior government ministers over the last year or so.

“Research from King’s College London found that by and large the print and broadcast media followed the same stories during last year’s General Election campaign and largely on the lines put out by the parties. This does not suggest a plural and investigative media industry.”

Other recommendations include new legislation to strengthen Ofcom’s role in regulating media companies and stopping concentration of ownership.

The essay also calls for a new Europe-wide task force for the regulation of media transparency and governance.

ENDS

 

CASE STUDY: THE NETHERLANDS – INDEPENDENCE FOR PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING

Although it has faced recent cutbacks and consolidation, the Nederlandse Publieke Omroep (NPO) has proved relatively resilient to the pressures of digitisation and continues to demonstrate public value in the strength of its member-based affiliates.

Specifically, the bulk of channels and airtime assigned to NPO is shared among 10 broadcasting associations. Eight of these function as audience cooperatives, with memberships bases that reflect the diversity of interests and groups in Dutch society. The remaining two are ‘task-based’ broadcasters specialising predominantly in news, current affairs and other factual programming. The NPO is charged with administering this network but does not have overall editorial responsibility for output.

 

CASE STUDY: ROMANIA – THE NEED FOR GOOD MEDIA OWNERSHIP

An example of the importance of plurality, diversity and transparency in media ownership can be found in Romania. The independent international watchdog Freedom House found in its 2015 audit of press freedom in Romania that the Presidential election of November 2014 had seen “biased coverage based on the political agendas of media owners and sponsors”.

Freedom House also found that “the private media sector is dominated by Romanian businessmen with political ties or holdings in other industries, and these interests typically determine an outlet’s editorial line”. They give the example of Dan Voiculescu, a politician and businessman, whose news outlets throughout 2014 launched attacks on the country’s chief anticorruption prosecutor – who was pursuing charges against Voiculescu. They find that the ownership structures of many outlets are very non-transparent, with “actual ownership often obscured through intermediaries”.

The results of the Media Pluralism Monitor 2015, run by the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom based in the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies of the European University Institute, meanwhile find that the financial crisis of the last decade had an especially pronounced negative effect on the Romanian press, making journalism a more “precarious” career. This has had the result of “reducing professionalism and editorial independence to barely recognised principles”.

The research suggests that existing domestic laws in Romania are “not effective in disclosing the real owners of media outlets”, and points to limitations in legislation regulating the ownership of both print media and the internet sector as well as a lack of effective sanctions to prevent ownership concentration in radio. Moreover, it finds that: “No media outlet with a significant audience shows internal pluralism in its editorial content (i.e. excluding op-eds), and external pluralism is driven mostly by the owners, some of whom are covert, highlighting a problem with ownership transparency.”

CASE STUDY: IRELAND – A DOMINATED MEDIA

In Ireland, concerns have been raised about the dominance of the domestic media landscape by the businessman Denis O’Brien. Independent News and Media, of which he is the largest shareholder, publishes both the Irish Independent and Sunday Independent (Ireland’s two largest selling newspapers), as well as the Sunday World and Dublin Herald. It also owns 14 regional papers across Ireland as well as 50% of the Irish Daily Star.

Looking beyond the printed press, O’Brien’s Communicorp Group owns both of the two foremost Irish commercial radio talk stations, Newstalk and Today FM. This concentration of ownership led to the National Union of Journalists calling in April 2016 for a commission on the future of the Irish media to be established.

This dominance has also led to criticism from commentators such as Fintan O’Toole (writing in the Irish Times, a competitor to the press outlets owned by O’Brien), who has claimed that O’Brien’s accumulation of “excessive private power” has had “an impact on the public realm of democracy”. He points to examples such as the findings of the Moriarty Tribunal, published in 2011 and examining the financial affairs of leading Irish politicians and businessmen, as demonstrative of how O’Brien’s “private interests intersected in an unhealthy way with the processes of public decision-making”.

In the UK meanwhile, the Guardian’s Roy Greenslade points to O’Brien’s ability to obtain an injunction to prevent the reporting of a speech made to the Irish Parliament by Catherine Murphy TD concerning a loan O’Brien had obtained from the state-owned Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IRBC), despite the speech being protected by Parliamentary privilege, as a further expression of his power.

Notes to the Editors

The essay is written by Dr Justin Schlosberg, a media lecturer and researcher at Birkbeck, University of London and current Chair of the Media Reform Coalition. He is the author of two books about the media and has produced a number of recent reports on press freedom and media plurality for organisations including the Open Society Foundations and European Endowment for Democracy. In the UK, he gave oral testimony to the recent Lords Inquiry into Media Plurality and regularly advises both front and back bench MPs on a range of media policy issues.

The ResPublica Trust is an independent non-partisan think tank. Through research, policy innovation and programmes, ResPublica seeks to establish a new economic, social and cultural settlement. In order to heal the long-term rifts in this country ResPublica aims to combat the concentration of wealth and power by distributing ownership and agency to all, and by re-instilling culture and virtue across the economy and society.

To arrange interviews with report author and supporters please call Oruj Defoite on 07866 685130 or email oruj@sogold.co.uk

Press enquiries to press@respublica.org.uk.


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