Vince Cable certainly caused a storm by saying he had ‘declared war on Rupert Murdoch’. Questions about the effectiveness and consistency of his prosecution of that war are legitimate, but the essential point – that Murdoch’s media empire should be dismantled – is correct. We should have said so but didn’t. Monopolies in general are anti-democratic and the enemy of social justice and democracy. In the media they are especially so because the media controls an important commodity.
Media outlets are a fairground mirror (you know the ones I mean, the ones that make you look extra fat, thin, tall or just plain kooky) through which many people view the wider world and this is what gives it power. Not only do they determine how we view news but to some degree what constitutes the news. This, however, does not make them (nor the owners of media monopolies) omnipotent and beyond account. That is something the Labour Party would be wise to remember.
New media can have a role in decreasing the power of media monopolies but there is only so much this can achieve without the backing of a government that is willing to undertake such a ‘war’ and win it.
It’s always argued that restricting monopolies is an attack on ‘freedom’ – usually by those with a vested interest in maintaining them – but the reverse is true. If we think about the whole public antipathy to ‘spin culture’, for example, we can see that this stems from an awareness that if politics and politicians are subservient to media interests then they are neglecting the people they represent. The media is not part of a chain of democratic accountability because it is simply not true that they ‘reflect people’s views and that is the reason they are commercially successful’. This is a sympathetic illusion created partly through unconscious processes of reflection and self-reflection and also through deliberate and quite conscious cultivation and propagation.
Going to ‘war’ with the likes of Rupert Murdoch is the only way to free the press and like it or not the only force capable of doing this is a government that has the courage to challenge Murdoch and his ilk in the name of democracy. Part of our policy review should be the consideration of including a commitment to make ‘one man, one newspaper’ less of a slogan and more a reality.