It was not so long ago that Chicken Little grabbed the front pages of newspapers around the world with the news that ‘the sky is falling’. His later arrest and imprisonment under the ‘Anti-Doomsday Act 2009’ saw him share a cell with the exhumed bones of the century’s dead compilers of William the Conqueror’s tax-grabbing land and property survey, the Domesday Book. It was a hideously lazy piece of legislation from the late-stage New Labour Government, not least because it drew no distinction between two but that was to be expected by the late stage Labour Government.
But the developments over the past few days have seen the likelihood of Chicken Little’s predictions having a ring of truth increase exponentially as News Corp’s planned buyout of the remaining BskyB shares has run into some’ slight’ turbulence. From Jeremy Hunts tacit acceptance of the deal early last week to its indefinite postponement at the end, it has capped off a week that can only be made worse if it was revealed that News Corp lace all their tabloid newspapers with a chemical that acts both as an aphrodisiac and an intelligence suppressor, resulting in a rapidly populating idiot class (The Sun readership).
Regardless of what has happened in the News of the World, it has no real bearing on the decision by Ofcom and the Culture Secretary regarding the takeover. Yes, we have ammo; yes, horrible things have occurred but no, that does not affect that plurality of the media. For that is what it all boils down to in the end, the need to have a variety of voices coming over the airwaves. Much like cricket cannot be played using the Queensbury rules, the decision cannot be undertaken on media ethics but on plurality alone.
Hold your horses! Before you start typing ‘Fit and Proper Persons Test’, I agree that Murdoch should be sent back to where he came from (that is the States, as he turned his back on Australia when he discovered that being an American could be a business advantage) with a resounding ‘No’ reverberating in his ears. Ofcom and Hunt should have seen the light much earlier, and not been drawn in by a rather obnoxious, decrepit elderly man (however attractive that does sound), but now truth has thrown on to the relationship between the media and politicians and they are backtracking faster than Usain Bolt on rewind.
The already scant levels of media pluralism in the UK have been eroded by successive Government decisions to relax restrictions on cross-media ownership. These safeguards allowed a variety of voices to be heard and prevented the rise of a monolithic media organisation, but this is based on a sufficient separation between the government and the fourth estate and not one where they both enjoy long walks on the beach.
With the entire Murdoch Empire now in the spotlight, the two issues – ethics and plurality – can finally get the attention they deserve but at the same time they should not be confused, however intertwined they might appear. The growing intensity of public opinion will only serve to diminish the flailing media tycoon’s influence over politicians, as they are slowly coming round to the old-fashioned idea that it’s the electorate that hold the true power.