Sunday 17 March 2013

Tough on press abuse, tough on the causes of press abuse

Am I missing something here?  We have the main political parties arguing over press regulation like St Anselm arguing over how many angels were on the head of a pin.  But the causes of media abuse - the outrageous hold that the Murdoch press had over politicians - goes unremarked.

What badly needs debate is precisely how to regulate cross-media ownership better, and how to prevent semi-monopolies of influence from building up that subverts proper media balance - and prevents prime ministers paying court to one press baron and his acolytes in particular.

As always, the most important Liberal issue - monopoly power - gets ignored in the flurry of irrelevant parliamentary excitement.

It isn't that Leveson ignored concentrated ownership, or that there has been no mention of it - Ed Miliband proposed a limit of 30 per cent of any one media type (Murdoch has 34 per cent of national newspapers) which seems to be puny.

There is also an argument that too much anti-trust will undermine the survival of our national newspapers.  Maybe - it needs to be argued out.  So why isn't it?

Is it because politicians are hopelessly obsessed with the particular?  If they can prevent Milly Dowler's phone being hacked again, they feel they can somehow clap themselves on the back and say 'job done'?

Is it because those who want to prevent the ownership debate from happening have deliberately shifted onto this theological issue which so fundamentally misses the point?

Is it because monopoly power is always the dog that doesn't bark - because Labour and Conservatives alike are blind to the Liberal issue of concentrations of power?

Or is it that they want to get back to normality: riding in the countryside with Rebekah Brooks?

There is a kneejerk political temptation to debate regulation rather than tackling fundamental causes - but it doesn't explain this terrible blindness.

So I am going to sleep through the utterly pointless debate tomorrow.  Who is going to join me?

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