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Sunday, 12 April 2015

DIGITISATION OWNERSHIP Preston on online polls opposing non-dom owners

In short, [there] is no single, ideal model of press ownership anywhere in the world, particularly in an era of profound flux. Any prospective government policy is going to be out of date before it’s sealed: see the way Leveson couldn’t cope with online.
Preston raises an opinion poll that shows overwhelming support for tougher media regulation, specifically restricting the right of non-doms to own British media. Whilst acknowledging the principle behind this, he questions whether this sentiment has any meaning given the globalisation that digitisation has brought about.

He starts:

Ah! Tax, press freedom and “fairness” (whatever that means). Let’s lay our current champions of righteousness out in a row. Here’s Rupert Murdoch. Well, we know about him: and, lest we forget, Nick Davies is always on hand at the Guardian to remind us. Here are the Barclay brothers, somewhere between home in Sark and their Monaco headquarters. Here’s Richard Desmond, possibly dropping in on Northern and Shell Jersey Ltd. And here – top of the morning as he patrols his Wiltshire estate – is Lord Rothermere, who, if you please, inherited non-dom status from his dad. Thus the owners of 12 national papers stand on the ramparts of this very personal debate.
No wonder that respondents to a YouGov poll the other day believe (74%) that owners of UK papers and TV stations should be full residents of Great Britain and pay their taxes here. No wonder that 71% think there should be new controls on media ownership (including, at 61%, independent editorial boards able to tell Lord Copper when to get lost). And no wonder, in present circumstances, that 61% would back an inquiry into the relationship between editorial content and advertising pressure. It could all be a stonking election issue – though it isn’t.
One of the reasons for that, of course, is a certain reticence on the dog-eat-dog circuit. How, keeping a straight face, can the Barclays denounce Rothermere? Where lies ultimate purity when and if Murdoch and Dickie Desmond sup together? Prudent silence descends all round. But another reason is much less easy to deal with. It is, simply, that this whole ownership area – in detail, on proper examination – is intractably difficult.
He notes what little difference residence status has had elsewhere; that it hasn't improved the media quality or pluralism:
If you want to play state enforcer, then the full resident-or-citizen injunction doesn’t guarantee anything much. Murdoch is an American citizen, and does what he does in America, too. Silvio Berlusconi is an Italian citizen: poor Italy. Captain Robert Maxwell made Britain his home...
He makes a further interesting point, though he has to twist the numbers to make it: if we add online to print readerships, the left-right imbalance of coverage in the UK press is radically reduced (by using a small sample he makes it fit the point of reversing this imbalance, before noting that adding the Mail undoes any such notion):
Take the Times, Sun and Telegraph. Pit them, on the latest monthly statistics, against the Guardian, Independent and Mirror. The reader score on my right stands at 33.8 million; on my left, 44.2 million. OK, I’ve left the Mail’s walloping 23 million out (as well as the FT, the Express, Metro and a few others). But the balance of voices isn’t remotely what Neil Kinnock faced long ago.

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