Evidence is mounting that Rupert Murdoch’s British media empire conspired illegally with private investigators to tap telephones and hack into computers. A recent murder trial disclosed that Murdoch’s editors paid $150,000 a year to private investigator Jonathan Rees, previously convicted of planting false evidence to frame an innocent woman.
It may be mere coincidence that the British government recently decided to approve Murdoch’s expansion of his media ownership. Many contend that Murdoch’s increase from a 39% to 100% share in Britain’s largest satellite television provider, BSkyB, does not matter. They are mostly members of the Conservative Party, who won Murdoch’s support in last year’s general election. Opponents tend to come from the Labour Party, which Murdoch backed in their victorious election campaigns of 1997, 2001, and 2005 before dropping them in 2010. Sour grapes?
Should any company control as much of the British media as Murdoch’s News Corporation does? And is News Corporation worthy of the national trust to provide so large a share of its information and cultural output? There is no doubt that granting Murdoch complete control of BSkyB will enable him to use it as a platform to bundle his newspaper, Internet, and television products into cheap packages that will give it a greater advantage over its competitors than America’s railroads enjoyed over horse-drawn wagons in the late 19th century. Neither the left-of-center Guardian nor the right-of-center Daily Telegraph could compete with such offerings, particularly in an era of declining newspaper readership.
British newspapers, unlike their American counterparts, are national rather than city-based. Most viewpoints are represented within a press structure that is more diverse than any city in America enjoys today. (As far back as 1997, wrote media critic Ben Bagdikian in The Media Monopoly, more than 7,000 American cities had no newspaper. Only a few of the rest have more than one.) Any reader in Britain can choose from more than twenty daily and Sunday newspapers reflecting wide variations in political persuasion and product quality. Some of the papers are already on the verge of extinction. If BSkyB offers its subscribers, who number about ten million now, a package of Murdoch newspapers along with satellite television and cheap broadband, some of the rival newspapers won’t survive. The astute economic and political columnist Will Hutton wrote in the Observer that “the sheer market power of News Corp wholly owning BSkyB will make it impossible for most other news organizations to compete in five to ten years’ time.” Diminution of media choice alone would militate against allowing any corporation, however benign, such an advantage. It was for that reason that Murdoch’s competitors and thousands of people who signed petitions asked the government to refer the News Corporation takeover bid to the Monopolies Commission.
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