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Media control in too few hands, warns MP

Power of press is ‘congealing’ among the big owners

26 March, 2021 — By Richard Osley

Jeremy Corbyn

CONTROL of national and local media is too concentrated in a handful of owners, Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn warned, as he used a keynote speech to call for a more diverse and independent selection of news outlets.

The former Labour Party leader said: “Media ownership, I can think of no better word, is congealing in fewer and fewer hands.

“Today just three companies own 90 per cent of national newspaper circulation. And three companies own 60 per cent of the local newspaper market. So that is six companies controlling the vast majority of the print media that we see in this country.”

Mr Corbyn, speaking at the Media Reform Coalition’s annual Media Democracy Festival, held online due to Covid rules, said people who thought that social media meant none of this mattered any more were mistaken, because the tech companies had algorithms that directed people back to the same stories.

“There is an unaccountable power to social media platforms,” he said. “The idea behind them are brilliant, but they’ve also helped to suppress news and they have also become prey to editorial control from the established media.”

He added: “Facebook has repeat­edly changed its algorithms to down­grade politics and certain types of people’s feeds. Each time, they’ve done so with no transparency at all.

“People are getting more and more information without realising it’s actually being filtered by some very clever people who have a different set of commercial values and news values to the rest of us. So there’s an illusion of independent access to the media.”

He said that he supported different newspaper ownership models to help titles survive the difficult economic conditions, including co-op style arrangements.

In a question and answer session, he cited the Islington Tribune and its sister paper the Camden New Journal, as well as the Bristol Cable and Highland Free Press, as independent news services which operated beyond the large groups which own scores of titles all around the country.

The New Journal was born out of a strike by journalists in 1982, with the Tribune later launched as its stablemate.

Mr Corbyn, the MP for the north of the borough since 1983, said he thought some independent media was so important it should be given “charitable status” and those that were investigative in the public interest should get help from a fund paid for with an extra tax on companies like Facebook and Google.

“Digital monopolies benefit from the media produced elsewhere and consumed on their platforms – so it seems to me the only fair thing to do,” he said.

Mr Corbyn also told the festival: “We also need to develop ideas about how we could democratise the BBC and liberate it from government control – the principle behind it is that its a public service, not a government service.”

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