11 July 2011

Learning the right lesson from the NOTW hacking scandal

Given the momentous events of last week I guess I picked the wrong week to go on holiday ...

But as the dust settles on the scandal (and on the News of the World itself), the talk is now of improving press regulation. Nick Clegg has said the Press Complaints Commission needs to be replaced with something with more power.

But I remain to be convinced that this is a problem of regulation (or lack of it).

Just like the banks, the British media is run by just a handful of large multi-media organisations. This oligopoly sets the rules by which it is run - influences decision makers to keep legislation light touch and generally behaves as masters of the universe. The fall of the News of the World is the media equivalent of the fall of HBOS where hubris and arrogance allowed an unacceptable culture of risk taking and moral vacuity to develop. Anything was OK provided it made a fast buck/titilating headline. The fact that it was NOTW/Northern Rock/HBOS that got caught doesn't fail to hide the endemic rot that exists in their respective sectors.

And that rot is the concentration of ownership in far too few hands. Like the banks the media moguls needs their wings clipped and their vast mutli companied organisations split up. Far from new complaints regulation, what the media needs is a competition commission with teeth - one that forces them to be split up and allows for a broader range of ownership.

Lib Dem MPs need to take the lead on this - firstly by voting to stop the full merger of News Corp and BSkyB and secondly by pursuing proper media ownership laws in this country.

Sadly, if the lack of progress on splitting up the banks is anything to go by, I fear that a pale compromise will be foisted on us and it will be basically 'business as usual' for the media - just as it is for the banks.


  1. I disagree with the parallel between banks and media outlets. Our problem with the banks is that their reckless practices required us to bail them out. Breaking them up will allow us to let bad banks fail rather than having to bail them out.

    The media's problem is a severe lack of morality in their conduct where they mess with problems lives and even spread misinformation. How would breaking them up solve this? What would stop the merely formed smaller outlets strom using the same unscrupulous methods to win sales?

    If I was to compare the media problem to banks, it would be the problems where they unfairly treat customers e.g. unfairly applied bank charges our mis-selling of financial products. To prevent such practices, isn't regulation the only way?

    As I understand it, the PCC had the right moral code and the right demand of standards but is a but weak in applying them. We just need to replace it with an organisation with a bit more muscle.

  2. Thanks for the well argued comment Strafio. I don't agree because if the media empire remain - they will always have huge resources to influence police, hire top lawyers and generally make a well funded nuisance of themselves.

    They need to be cut down to size.