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Sunday, 13 September 2015

FUTURE Could Corbyn reintroduce ownership limits?

It is abundantly clear that a right-wing government able to rely on generally favourable coverage from a UK press which is also largely right-wing, and which has undermined the BBC's finances so radically, will have no desire to regulate on media ownership.

Quite the opposite: should we expect Murdoch to resurrect the buyout of the 60% of BSkyB shares his conglomerate doesn't own - so inconveniently halted by public outrage over his paper's phone hacking of Milly Dowler? Probably, yes; despite the protests of the Culture Select Committee and others, the Tory Culture Secretary was set to wave it through pre-Leveson.

Now we have a left-wing Labour leader, will there be a sharp end to the consensus over free market, laissez faire media regulation? Again, probably.

Corbyn has said little on this yet, but his one utterance directly attacked concentration of ownership and many perceive Murdoch's empire as a target.

Let's not forget that Tom Watson, who doggedly pursued News International and the phone hacking story even when directly threatened by the Murdoch press, and at the cost of his marriage, is now deputy leader.

The Blairite right-wing Labour MPs will doubtless argue that Labour needs to court the likes of the Mail and the S*n - after all, Tony himself flew out to Australia to genuflect before the great man in advance if the 1997 election.

Such arguments will surely now be rejected, and we can expect to see a sustained, vicious barrage of flak to shoot down this counter-hegemonic force.

The largely hostile coverage in the Guardian suggests that there might be friendly fire too, even if Greenslade thinks the paper will be neutral.

Greenslade also states that Corbyn has to become PM to change media policy, but that isn't necessarily so. We saw under the coalition government that the backbench Select Committee undertook the scrutiny that the responsible government minister, Jeremy Hunt, appeared reluctant to, including Watson famously describing James Murdoch as a Mafia boss.

With some cross-bench support (ie, Labour, Tory and others) its recommendations could still be enacted, though whether it will put forward any radical changes, other than eviscerating the BBC, does seem unlikely.

We have also seen plenty of examples of backbench bills getting close enough to passing to force government to act.

Whatever now happens, the cosy consensus and hegemony of deregulation will at least be up for debate, marking a distinct shift in 36 years of both major parties cutting media regulation.
The current Tory Culture Secretary could face charges for leaking anti-BBC briefings to the Sunday Times: John Whittingdale accused of misleading parliament over BBC story in Sunday Times.

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