We expect the media to hold governments to account, to partake in investigative journalism, to comment and analyse policy, to report news. We do not expect it to collude with governments or to take instruction from proprietors to manipulate opinion. This distorts the political process and undermines our democracy. A free press, yes: a feral press, no.
We need to protect and promote real journalism. As Joseph Pulitzer put it, real journalism is the painstaking reporting that will “fight for progress and reform, never tolerate injustice or corruption, and always fight demagogues”. Pulitzer also said journalism must always “oppose privileged classes and public plunderers, never lack sympathy with the poor, always remain devoted to the public welfare, never be satisfied with merely printing news, always be drastically independent, never be afraid to attack wrong, whether by predatory plutocracy or predatory poverty”.
Unfortunately, the close relationship that our political 'leaders' have developed with media owners and organisations has emasculated real journalism and given certain individuals great power to manipulate government policy for their own ends. They have too great a say in the setting of the political agenda. Besides this, the ownership of the British media is concentrated in too few hands, and several excessively wealthy individuals who own large chunks of the British media are either not British or domiciled outside Britain. The billionaire press has too much influence on British politics.
Rupert Murdoch, who is a foreign national, used his newspapers to promote Brexit. He personally took control of his 'campaign'. There can be little doubt that had he not interfered, the result of the referendum would almost certainly have been different.
Britain has one of the most concentrated media environments in the world. Just three companies dominate 83% of national newspaper circulation; five companies account for 80% of national newspaper newsbrand reach; five companies command 80% of local newspaper titles; and two companies own nearly half of all commercial analogue radio stations.
The relationship between government and the media needs reform. New rules need to be introduced to limit the ownership of newspaper media to 10% or a combination of newspaper and other media to a total of 15%. Owners would be required to be British and be domiciled in Britain.
The Leveson recommendations, deliberately sidelined by the Conservatives because of pressure from their media mogul friends, should be implemented in full.