THE OWNERSHIP OF THE NEWS
CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION
1. The news media have a vital role in a democracy.
They report the news from home and overseas; they expose injustice;
they challenge government and officialdom and they set out a huge
range of views. Our concern in this inquiry is how to ensure the
news media can continue to fulfil this role and in particular
to examine the impact of ownership on the news media. A media
concentrated in too few hands could have the effect of limiting
the freedom of expression and diversity of view which is the hallmark
of a democratic state. This report examines whether ownership
has become more concentrated, what impact ownership can have on
news and what options are open to the Government to ensure that
the British public has a proper choice of accurate and high quality
2. Throughout most of the twentieth century people
relied on newspapers and a limited number of radio and television
channels for their news. However, technological advances including
the advent of the internet and new electronic means of distribution
have resulted in a proliferation of news sources. News is now
available on a multitude of websites, some run by traditional
news providers and some run by new incumbents or even by individual
"bloggers" who comment on the news and occasionally
even break stories. Satellite, cable and now digital television
has increased the number of television channels and in turn the
number of news channels. At the same time increased choice has
fragmented news audiences and advertising revenues and news providers
have had to create new business models in an uncertain environment.
3. While there has been a proliferation of ways
to access the news, there has not been a corresponding expansion
in professional journalism. The market pressures faced by news
organisations have led many to scale back on investment in journalism
and news gathering. Much of the news available on the internet,
on the new television channels and elsewhere is repackaged from
other sources. The number of specialist correspondents seems to
be shrinking rather than growing to keep pace with new trends
in news provision. Foreign correspondents have been cut back by
most news organisations.
4. Media ownership is regulated differently to
ownership of most other business activities because of the media's
place in a healthy democracy. They provide the range of voices
and opinions that informs the public, influences opinion, and
supports political debate. Regulation to ensure a plurality of
media ownership is therefore particularly aimed at ensuring a
diversity of news provision. Media mergers and acquisitions are
currently subject to a special regime of regulation above and
beyond general competition law. Specifically they can be subject
to a test of their impact on the public interest.
5. As for content, the regulatory requirements
for broadcasters are fundamentally different to those for newspapers.
Broadcast news, on both television and radio, has traditionally
been provided either by the publicly funded BBC or the commercial
Public Service Broadcasters (PSBs) who have received indirect
subsidies in return for undertaking certain programming duties,
such as children's, news and regional programming. Government
and Parliament are able to influence the quantity, scheduling
and quality of broadcast news on the PSBs. The industry has a
statutory regulator, Ofcom, although the BBC is still responsible
for regulating most aspects of its own content through the BBC
Trust. Even the new broadcast news providers, who do not have
PSB status and are not universally available, are licensed by
Ofcom and are required to meet statutory obligations of impartiality.
The diversity and quality of broadcast news is thus affected not
only by ownership regulation but also by statutory regulation
of content and standards.
6. By contrast the UK has never had statutory
regulation of newspaper content or standards. The only way that
a diversity of voices in newspaper news has been regulated is
through ownership regulation. This report examines both media
ownership regulation and the regulation of content and standards
of broadcast news.
7. The emergence of the internet as a source
of news has brought a new and largely unregulated medium into
play. Producers of online content are subject to the same broad
legal duties as print publishers. However, internet content is
produced across the world and the impact of these liabilities
is constrained by national jurisdictions, providers outside the
UK's reach do not need to comply with UK rules. The challenge
of regulating millions of content providers and millions of access
points around the world adds to the practical difficulties of
regulating internet content, even if it was deemed desirable.
Regulating the ownership of internet news providers is complicated
by the international nature of the web and many of the organisations
that provide news websites.
8. Before focusing on the ownership of news media
we started our inquiry by examining current trends in news production
and consumption. It is important to understand the context in
which media companies are operating before examining ownership
9. The membership of the Committee is set out
in appendix one, and our two Calls for Evidence are at appendix
three. We received valuable written and oral evidence from the
witnesses listed in appendix two. During the course of our inquiry
we visited New York and Washington DC to look at news provision
and regulation in the United States. We wish to put on record
our warm thanks to all those who have assisted us in our work.
10. Our Specialist Advisers for this inquiry
were Professor Steven Barnett, Professor of Communications
at the University of Westminster; and Professor Mike Feintuck,
Director of the Law School at the University of Hull. We have
been very fortunate to benefit from their expertise.