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     Media Ownership



Who owns our opinion?

The power of the media is often talked about, and whilst media conglomerates are in many respects no different from other multinational concerns and the economic and political power they wield, the media companies influence is more direct in that they have immediate access to the readers, listeners, and viewers of their publications. It would be wrong to suggest that people believe everything they read or hear, but there can be equally no doubt that as long as a particular message is repeated often enough, it will gradually be accepted as true. To investigate who owns the networks which want to shape our opinion is thus paramount, as is the question whose interests they pursue. The myth of the free press certainly goes out of the window when looking at the interconnected controlling interests in media outlets. There are, of course, smaller, maybe more independent contenders on the market, but they lack comparable circulation and, more importantly, do often not have the resources to source their own stories. So whilst they might put a different tint on a report, they will have to rely on the major news agencies for their information feed. These agencies are anything from impartial and are part and parcel of the media ownership setup. Almost a third of Reuters, one of the oldest and largest, for example, is owned by the Daily Mail Group. These agencies filter out all the available news and pass on a mere 2% of it, which makes up the pool from which their subscribers choose their news stories. This slimming down of the news is probably one of the most crucial contributors to partisan reporting, forcing even rival media publications to limit their differences to what has been deemed suitable for them as raw material.

An in-depth study of media ownership requires a book, not a mere article. This brief description is, therefore, more intended to raise awareness and encourage further study. Globally, the biggest media empire is the one created out of the merger of AOL and Time Warner – it covers the cinema and film industry, tv channels (terrestrial, satellite, and cable), magazines, journals, books, papers, and, increasingly important, the internet. CNN, Netscape, CompuServe, Time Life, are just a few of the well known AOL Time Warner brands. In the UK it owns IPC, the biggest magazine publisher reaching over 50% of the population.

AOL is followed by The Walt Disney Company as the next largest media group in the world, then Bertelsmann (the German conglomerate which own 65% of Channel Five) and Viacom (owning Paramaount and Blockbuster). Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, which dominates the UK market, only makes it to number five on the world scene. This group headed by the Australian born naturalised American owns Fox and the New York Post in the United States, and News International, a holding for BskyB, the Sun, the Times, Today, News of the World, and Sunday Times in the UK. It also owns the Asian TV Channel Star which is marketing programmes at British Asians. We’ll begin our journey around the UK media monopolies with this group which in recent months has been the most vociferous war-mongerer in the run up to the attack on Iraq.

The Sun has almost 3.5 million readers, and together with the other above mentioned papers News International has a circulation of just under 10 million equating to a 37% share of newspaper sales in the country. British Sky Broadcasting claims in excess of 3 million homes as subscribers. If this is not a power base, then what is, and it is due to News International’s shift from the Conservatives to New Labour in 1997 that the Blair government owes its electoral success. In turn, the government will do whatever possible, to keep Murdoch and his empire sweet, as they could hardly afford losing such an important ally. The Sun has always had a nationalistic and xenophobic stance, be it football or asylum seekers. The Home Secretary’s hardline stance on asylum seekers may well be influenced by the policy makers of News International, and the governments hesitation to press ahead with European integration might be in consideration of the media response, as Murdoch is strongly opposed to interventions by the European Union. Just as newspapers need to keep their advertisers sweet, governments will need to keep their media allies on board.

The next contender on the newspaper scene is the Trinity Mirror group publishing the Daily Mirror (just over 2 million readers), the Sunday Mirror (1.7 million) and Sunday People (1.4 million) as well as the Daily Record and Sunday Mail in Scotland. Its share of national newspaper circulation is 23%. Once part of the Maxwell empire, the group has recently tried to increase its readership by latching on to the anti-war movement. The Mirror group also owns a large number of regional newspaper titles.

The Daily Mail and General Trust plc is small in comparison, with only 13% of UK newspaper circulation, the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday having just under 2.5 million readers each. With the London Evening Standard (385.500 readers), however, it dominates the London newspaper market. It also owns or has a controlling interest in many of the regional newspapers and free advertisers, has a strong stake in numerous regional radio stations, owns 20% of ITN, 40% of Teletext, and 31% of the Reuters news agency. The group is owned by the family of the Viscount of Rothermere and has always had Conservative leanings.

United MAI is the new name for the group now owning the Express newspapers after they were sold by Lord Hollick (the paper which offered Robert Kilroy Silk a platform for his anti-Muslim rantings). The group is headed by Richard Desmond who also has an assortment of porn publications in his portfolio, which was the reason for his donation to the Labour Party to become controversial. The Daily Express has a circulation of 950,000; the Daily Star 640,000; the Sunday Express 840,000; giving United MAI a share of 14% in national newspaper circulation. They are also a minority stake holder (29%) in Channel 5 TV, the majority holding being owned by the German media giant Bertelsmann.

The Telegraph Group Ltd. only publishes the Daily Telegraph (970,000) and Sunday Telegraph (775,000), thus representing 7.5% of the national circulation, as well as the magazine Spectator, but it is another example of British News being dominated by outside interests. The Telegraph is owned by Conrad Black, chair of the Hollinger Group, the largest Canadian newspaper holding, and it consistently reflects the opinions of the US and Israeli right wing, also publishing hundreds of titles in those two countries, including the Jerusalem Post. Richard Perle, one of the key war mongers in the American administration is involved in Hollinger Digital.

Amongst the “minor” players in the UK are Pearson who publish the Financial Times (465,000 readers) and fully own Thames TV as well as the Longman and Penguin publishing houses, the Guardian Media Group plc with the Guardian (380,000) and the Observer (400,000), and the Independent News and Media plc publishing the Independet (190,000) and the Independent on Sunday (195,000) plus some regional and advertising titles. The Muslim News, being distributed free of charge, in comparison claims a circulation figure of 60,000. This seems optimistic, seeing that the largest Urdu daily in the UK, the Daily Jang reports only a circulation of 12,000.

We close this round-up of media moguls with a brief comment on the allegedly impartial BBC financed publicly through the licence fee. The Corporation has also ventured into commercial holdings and owns, for example, a stake in Telecommunications Inc., a US corporation whose British subsidiary Flextech owns The Family Channel, Playboy, Bravo, Discovery and The Sega Channel as well as 20% of Scottish TV. Another UK subsidiary, Tinta, is part-owner of the UK’s largest cable operator TeleWest. TCI in turn is a major investor in Bill Gates’ Microsoft, the company awarded lucrative deals by the government for computerising Britain’s schools. The media world is truly incestuous.

Author: Islamic Party of Britain
Date Published: Spring 2003

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