Media mergers harm your health

MEDIA mega mergers are damaging to your journalistic health, Granville Williams of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom told the April meeting of London Freelance Branch. Unless we in the UK put some campaigning effort behind that idea we will find ourselves hit by the equivalent of what is presently going on in the United States. Think, he said, of the implications of the deal between AOL and Time-Warner; stitched up, it seems, in Shanghai.

He traced American mega-mergers back to the US Telecommunications Act of 1996, which removed all limits on media ownership under the guise of encouraging development. Diversity in the media immediately came under threat, Granville said, with convergence between the worlds of the traditional media companies and the internet giants the driving force.

Self-censorship, the "scissors in the head", are a threat as journalists big media groups worry about the effects on their careers of digging away at what is going on elsewhere in the corporation. Do journalists at ABC News feel able to write about employment practices at Disney?

We have to make our voice heard, he said. We should ensure that the NUJ makes submissions to the UK government on the forthcoming broadcasting White Paper. Otherwise, the only influence will be the corporate lobbiers - as happened in the USA.

Simon Waldman, a journalist who has moved over into management on the Guardian website, was also very wary of total corporate domination. He pointed out, however, that developments on the internet were so extensive and fast-moving that UK companies like the Guardian Media Group feel they cannot go it alone. Maybe the BBC could, he said, but it's too soon to tell.

What, he wondered, was going to be the internet equivalent of the package provided by a daily newspaper? In this, the combination of classified and display advertising and cover price pays for the reporting.

Trust was the answer he came up with. Trust and attention - people's willingness to lend you their minds - are the key commodities. People are happy to have things sold to them - such as books reviewed - which raises money at the back end rather than the front end of cover price. But we have to be careful about this move.

Among branch members asking questions, Martin Spellman emphasised the need for the NUJ to have an input into the broadcasting White Paper. Hilary Macaskill, until recently an NEC member, asked which NUJ national organiser was in charge of organising such a response.

Granville pointed out that the emergence of megacorporations undermined the very notion of public service broadcasting. Noting that the CPBF acts as the think-tank for the media unions, LFB decided to affiliate to the Campaign.

May/Jun 2000
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Last modified: 08 May 2000
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