A new report has revealed the extent to which the corporate media dominates the UK’s news landscape – and the outlook for any improvement is currently bleak.
Three companies controlling the entire press landscape
Campaign and research group the Media Reform Coalition (MRC) has published its latest report into media ownership in the UK. It follows on from the group’s previous analysis in 2021 – and represents a worsening in some areas. As the MRC said:
our updated findings indicate that the endemic crisis of concentrated media ownership in the UK has worsened, with even fewer companies controlling larger shares of the media landscape.
Overall, the MRC found that three companies still control much of the print and online media landscape in the UK. These are:
- Daily Mail Group (DMG) Media – owners of the Daily Mail and MailOnline, Metro, and the iPaper.
- News UK – owners of the Sun and the Times.
- Reach – owners of the Mirror and the Express.
This trio own 90% of the UK’s national newspaper market. They also have 40% of the total audience share of the top 50 online news brands. This means that DMG, News UK, and Reach essentially control most of the corporate media in the country. On top of this, Russian oligarch Evgeny Lebedev owns the Evening Standard, and has the largest shareholding in the Independent.
The situation may get even worse. As the MRC report said:
The forthcoming auction of the Telegraph titles and Spectator magazine risks further reducing the already pitiful diversity of voices in the UK’s national press. With potential bidders including the Daily Mail General Trust and a co-owner of GB News, the sale could merely transfer ownership of these titles from one set of offshore right-wing oligarchs to another.
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Local news: not local at all
Local news fairs no better. The MRC found that six companies control 71% of local outlets. In this, Reach (again) and a company called Newsquest own 41.5% of the 1,189 local outlets – around 494 titles. In April 2022, Reach owned the entire top 10 most-read online local news sites.
The MRC report said of local news:
Local journalism is in peril, as the collapse of print advertising and persistent job cuts by the largest publishing companies have deprived local communities of news made for and about them. 2.5 million people live in areas without a single local newspaper, and across print and online publishing more and more local titles are being closed or consolidated into generic ‘hub’ websites, producing little to no news in the areas they claim to cover. Despite the launch of a number of independent and hyper-local outlets, the absence of sustainable funding and support for local public interest journalism means the sector remains shackled to the commercial imperatives of a few apathetic publishing giants.
However, not only is the entire media landscape in the UK sewn up by a few rich billionaires, but other rich billionaires control how we access this corporate news as well.
Tech giants: controlling what we read
The MRC found that:
Online intermediaries (OIs) such as social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter), search engines (e.g. Google, Bing), news aggregators (e.g. Google News, Apple News) and video-sharing websites (e.g. YouTube, Vimeo) play a pivotal role in how news content is distributed, curated, discovered and monetised online. 64% of the UK public regularly uses an OI to access news, and many of the most popular online sources are controlled by a handful of global ‘Big Tech’ corporations…10 of the top 15 websites, apps and platforms used to access news are owned by just three companies: Meta, Alphabet and X Corp. Across all UK users who access news online, 72% use services controlled by Meta and 71% use services owned by Alphabet.
Staggeringly, the MRC overall found that on top of this:
- 40% of people access news via Google or Facebook.
- Google has over 93% of UK search engine use.
- Three out of four internet users are active on social media sites owned by Meta (Facebook) and Alphabet (Google).
Just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, broadcast media is no different either.
The BBC: having it all sewn up
The MRC report found that the BBC still dominates our TVs, with it having a 31.5% monthly viewing share – ahead of:
- ITV at 21.4%.
- Sky at 10.9%.
- Channel 4 at 9.6%.
- Channel 5 at 7.3%.
Although the BBC remains the dominant player across TV and radio, its founding public service mission has been undermined by licence fee freezes, political interference and a questionable strategy to find its digital future.
So, what’s to be done?
Corporate media’s power must be curbed
The MRC said that:
We want to see independent media that are able to hold power to account and to serve their audiences and the public in general as opposed to shareholders, proprietors or politicians.
It says this should be done through robust regulation, funding for independent media, and action on the monopoly that exists in corporate media. The MRC summed up by saying:
At a time of intensifying political instability and widening economic inequalities, we urgently need a programme of genuinely progressive reform aimed at creating a freer, fairer and more accountable media. And if we want to lay the foundations for a media system that serves and represents the full diversity of the UK population, its opinions, its communities, its constituent nations and indeed its divisions, then we need to take action now to curb media power.
Unfortunately, given both the Tories’ and Labour’s cosiness with the corporate media, none of this is likely to happen.
The UK’s so-called ‘democracy’ does not work – and the problems with the media are central to this. So, the MRC’s report is a crucial insight into the functioning of the corporate press and online publishers. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely you’ll read about this in the Sun, Daily Mail, or Mirror, or hear it on the BBC – which is, of course, the point.
Featured image via gofundme – Simon Harris
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