Freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one


The media decided that they did not like the prime minister; he was always accused of not being able to follow in the footsteps of the former PM, and the fact that he did not look good on television was of no help either. After the election, a coalition government of the centre parties took over. This posed a problem for the industry, and consequently, the people with money. The government was far too green, and would not support the building of gas-plants. The industry looked at the other options, and decided that the conservatives were too weak, and the only chance would then be to get Labour back.

However, this could not be done until the former prime minister resigned as a candidate. So, for two years the media came up with an endless stream of articles, news stories and polls, all saying that everyone would rather have Labour’s second-in-charge as a PM candidate. The 10th February 2000 they succeeded. The Labour party leader stepped down and left the position of prime minister candidate to ‘the people’s favourite. ‘ After this the road was clear, and the forces in support of the gas-plants began moving again.

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On the 9th March, the Conservatives and Labour joined forces and brought down the government, and the next day, the new Labour candidate met with the King and was asked to form government. With the government opposition gone, and a majority in parliament in favour of building out the gas-resources in the North Sea, the forces who had been vigorously campaigning for this over several years had won. I have here given several examples of the industry using its media interests for ‘personal’ gain, and although there probably are many more, I am not going to list them here.

I would rather want to spend a bit more time on the good side of commercialisation. As I have previously said, the input of new money has led to a great diversity of offers made available to us by the media every day. Even if the number of papers might have gone down, the total page number is far greater than it has ever been before. Adverts has also made it possible to create magazines to suit every taste. Although, considering this, the greatest accomplishment made by commercial interests in Britain might be lifting BBC’s monopoly. In television, this monopoly was never as great.

BBC started its television broadcasts in 1936, but it was not until ten years later that they were able to broadcast to more than the greater London area. 7 In the nine years which passed before ITV was started, the interest for television was not very great, neither in the BBC itself, nor in the public. Television was seen as merely an extension of radio, and it was only with the coronation of Queen Elisabeth 2 in 1953, the sales and the respectability started growing rapidly. Today one is able to get a wide variety of television-channels, and with cable or satellite, the choices have grown even more diverse.

With the introduction of subscription-channels in the nineteen-eighties, a new way of paying was introduced, but for most of the time, the fight has been between stations paid for through the licence fee and the ones dependent on adverts. As a result of the great variety of commercial channels which have appeared in the later years, it is now possible to get almost anything on television. Even considering this, it is not fair to say that there are fewer quality programmes today, there is just so much more out there.

Another fact is that when a media-company makes money on one of their businesses, they might invest it in another media-related project. This is what ITV has done, investing money made through television in films, and thus enabling the creation of films that might never have seen the light of day otherwise. When it comes to radio, the BBC held on to its monopoly for a much longer time. This was gradually broken down by pirate-radio, and also the influence from Radio Luxembourg, although none of these were able to broadcast nation-wide.

In 1973 the monopoly was broken and allowed local commercial radio, but it was not until 1992 that the first commercial national radio came on air. 8 It might seem as if the commercial radio-stations did not have much influence, but in reality they did. The reason for the change in BBC over the years lay mainly in the competition from the commercial stations, even though they were either pirate or in Luxembourg or France. The BBC could not take the risk it would be to ignore them, and chose instead to imitate them, culminating with the launch of Radio One in 1967.

The influence of commercial interests on the media has been far greater than one might think at first glance. Journalists are human beings, and any reporting of news is never impartial. Adding the fact that to keep their jobs, or to get promoted, they might find it highly important to stay on the good side of their bosses. The result of this may in many cases be that radical opinions in articles are disapproved of and the journalists find that they have to compromise with their own conscience, or lose their jobs. This was discovered by the radical writer James Aronson when he worked on the New York Post in the 1940s.

On question of why he had not been promoted, his news editor said that ‘ You were not advanced, my young friend, because your political views are at variance with those held by the managers of this enterprise, and therefore are not acceptable to them. ‘9 Even though the commercial interests may cause the press to be less radical, commercialisation might, in the long run, be a very good thing. A multitude of choices are made available to us every day, and this, in turn helps to turn us into who we are. The influence this gives to the industry is the price we have to pay to be able to have such a wide range of choices.

1 p 27 Parenti, Michael : Inventing Reality, the politics of the mass media 2 p 21 Seymore-Ure, Colin : The British Press and Broadcasting since 1945 3 p 45 Seymore-Ure, Colin : The British Press and Broadcasting since 1945 4 backside of: Schultz, Julianne : Reviving the Fourth Estate, Democracy, accountability and the media 5 From the lecture in week 2 6 See attachments 7 p 88 Seymore-Ure, Colin : The British Press and Broadcasting since 1945 8 From the lecture in week 4 9 p 37 Parenti, Michael : Inventing Reality, the politics of the mass media.


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