Claire Beale: Leveson proves need to protect media diversity
A view from Claire Beale

Claire Beale: Leveson proves need to protect media diversity

There's nothing as interesting this week as the Leveson inquiry's latest twists. Every Murdoch rebuttal has managed to be both surprising yet assumed.

Is it really surprising that a newspaper owner should see their paper as a means to further the commercial interests of their corporation? After all, you don't go into newspaper publishing to make a healthy profit (unless you're called Barclay). Britain might have a history of philanthropic publishing, but today's press barons tend to have rather more worldly ambitions; it's surely not so startling that political influence might be one of those ambitions.

Rupert Murdoch denied this week that he ever used his newspapers to push his own commercial interests. Yet the papers' political allegiance has been sought and prized by successive governments, so a close relationship - editorially and managerially - between News International and the government of the day became inevitable. Murdoch and his team might not have used the pages of his papers to directly promote his commercial interests (though Private Eye might produce evidence to the contrary), but they surely used their newspapers' influence to forge useful bonds with decision-makers. And why not? Any shrewd commercial company (or, indeed, charity or pressure group) would leverage their powerbase to do the same.

Again, there is nothing alarming in the notion that News Corp did everything it possibly could to encourage a favourable decision from the review of its bid for BSkyB. Any management team that didn't push as hard as possible to secure such a transformational deal for its company would clearly be failing in its corporate duties. So, leaving aside the despicable phone-hacking issue, this week's revelations have mostly served to show that, of course, News Corp and its News International subsidiary pursued a shrewd and aggressive path to commercial success. On that score, at least, shareholders should applaud.

But whatever the truth about the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt's approach to his quasi-judicial responsibilities in considering News Corp's stalking of BSkyB, the Murdoch faction seems to have been allowed more access and insight than is ethically right. That this should happen at a time when other, more vulnerable media continue to wither before our eyes, too often hampered by unworkable (analogue) media ownership rules that prohibit effective consolidation elsewhere in the (digital) media market, is unacceptable. Successive governments have failed to properly manage and protect media plurality, and diversity - particularly at a regional level - has suffered as a consequence.

If the Leveson inquiry achieves anything beyond ensuring that no-one suffers such invasions of privacy as the phone-hacking scandal has laid bare, let's hope it's to force a rethink of media ownership and media power ... while we've still got a rich media landscape worth protecting.

claire.beale@haymarket.com.

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