Is news plurality alive in the UK?
One argument Murdoch and others have brought in favour of merging the two media companies, after a first failed attempt in 2010, is the tendency of consumers to multi-source their information in the digital age. A joint report by the Media Reform Coalition and Avaaz, entitled “Consolidating Control: The Fox/Sky merger and news plurality in the UK”, states that data proves this to be false.
In recent years, there has rather been a trend towards consuming news from fewer outlets than more. Whilst plurality in news overall in the UK is relatively stable, more and more readers consume their news through social media – which results into less exposure to different news outlets.
The report states that the incorporation of Sky Plc. “will result in the merged entity being the only news and media provider present on all four media platforms” and that “the merged entity will effectively become the largest newspaper provider, the third largest TV news provider, the second largest provider of radio news content and the fourth largest online news provider.”
This does not come as a surprise. Data in the report suggests that rather than decreasing in its reach, which is true for its print sales, News Corp made up for its slight losses by a substantial increase of its online format “The Sun”. At the same time, Sky is the single biggest contributor to the Yahoo online news page, “itself one of the leading online news websites.” If the merge between the two companies was stopped on the grounds of plurality in 2010, it would be ludicrous to allow it now.
In a functioning democracy, media are the fourth power, fact checking, monitoring and holding the people in power accountable. This essential function might be compromised if the possibly soon biggest news outlet in the UK has very close relations to the government it is supposed to report about. Media Reform Coalition and 38 Degrees investigated how often representatives from both sides met. They found that “between April 2015 and September 2016, senior News Corp executives met with government ministers or their special advisers on 22 separate occasions.” Rupert Murdoch, the chairman himself, met with high-level government officials at least eight times in person.