Rupert Murdoch (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Unions unite across borders against Murdoch media merger
Last week the British and European trade union movement united to call on the European Commission to block the proposed 21st Century Fox bid for Sky. A similar process is underway in the UK, but this is bigger than Britain, and demonstrates the need for transnational regulation of transnational companies.
The TUC and European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) backed the National Union of Journalists and its international equivalent the IFJ (as well as unions representing others in the television industry) in opposing the concentration of political and economic power and influence that a Murdoch-run monopolistic mega-corporation would represent.
If the merger goes ahead, it will undermine news plurality. The merged company will be the only news and media provider serving all four media platforms at the wholesale level, giving a significant and, in many cases, dominant presence across them. It will effectively become:
- the largest newspaper provider;
- the third-largest TV provider;
- the second-largest provider of radio news content; and
- the fourth-largest online news provider.
Britain already has one of the most concentrated media environments in the world, with three companies controlling 71% of national newspaper circulation and five companies in command of 81% of local newspaper titles. Sky and NewsCorp are already the biggest commercial news producers in the UK. Sky News Radio is the main news supplier to more than 280 commercial stations. Sky’s only real competitor in radio news production is the BBC. In television, there are now only two UK-based 24-hour TV news channels – Sky News and the BBC News Channel.
The merger would make Rupert Murdoch the only person ever to control a substantial share of wholesale news provision on all the main news platforms.
Free, independent journalism and media diversity are crucial to our democracy.
Seamus Dooley, NUJ acting general secretary, said:
“The determination of the Murdochs to extend their power, wealth and influence knows no bounds. The need for media plurality is recognised in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and in that context the European Commission has a direct role in examining the proposed merger.
“The NUJ has always believed that media diversity is essential in a healthy democracy. We have already witnessed the impact of media concentration on journalism and politics. We must ensure that at national and European levels every effort is made to halt the onward march of the Murdochs.”
Anthony Bellanger, IFJ general secretary, said:
“Media plurality is a cornerstone of democracy. Without it, all the talk of a free and independent media is nothing but empty words. We want to see action at a UK and European level, not just to defend but also to extend media plurality and diversity. In today’s troubled world citizens need to have access to diverse and reliable news sources – this proposed merger reduces plurality and undermines diversity – as such it is clearly against the public interest.”
And in the ETUC letter to the European Commission, general secretary Luca Visentini writes:
“If plurality means anything, it indicates news from diverse, reliable, independent sources. In opposing the merger the ETUC is also mindful of the track record of the principal figures involved in the transaction, Rupert and James Murdoch. The fig leaf of corporate restructuring should not be used as a mechanism to allow the Murdoch family to gain further dominance, control and influence.
“The propriety of the proposed purchasers and controllers, including James and Rupert Murdoch must be examined. The investigation must assess whether the proposed owners are persons who are likely to maintain high standards of corporate governance, accountability, and conduct and the impact of their conduct on democracy within Europe.
“The dominant role of the Murdoch empire is a matter of European and global concern.”