The language, concepts and attitudes of free-market economics have become so dominant that we barely notice how they infect our lives. Forty years of neoliberalism has changed the very words we use. This is how inequality becomes normalized, accepted and unchallenged. Much of London’s media is controlled by a few rich individuals. The news, the stories, the voices and views that we hear don’t represent our city. The Mayor should find ways to support the development of truly free and balanced sources of news.
Fair News, Fair Comment: read our detailed agenda for a fairer news media for London
Inequality and the Importance of the Media
The media have well-documented and enormous effects on economic, social and cultural development at the global, national and local levels. It is increasingly understood that people’s perceptions and understandings of the world around them (at the informational, narrative and emotional levels) are heavily influenced by the news media they consume. Evidence suggests that this is particularly true of people’s political perceptions, emotions and preferences. In 2011, Ofcom conducted a wide-ranging review of the academic literature addressing the effects of the media on audiences and on the political process. Ofcom’s definition of media “plurality” is where there is a diversity of viewpoints available and consumed across and within media enterprises, and where any one media owner or voice is prevented from having too much influence over public opinion and the political agenda. Ofcom concluded that media plurality, especially in the news, was a cornerstone of democracy. There is a wealth of evidence that, through political influence, news platforms drive the acceleration of inequality on all levels; and through influencing individual and group values, consumption and business choice, and narratives around equality, justice, climate change, race and gender, they have a profound effect on wellbeing and sustainability.,,,,,
Who Controls the News Media?
A recent (2021) report on UK media ownership shows that DMG Media (Mail, Mail on Sunday, Metro), News UK (Sun, Times, Sunday Times) and Reach (Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, The Sunday People, Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Star, Daily Star Sunday) control 90% of the national newspaper market; up from 83% in 2019. If those accessing online are included these three control an 80% audience share and 72% revenue share, with the corresponding capacity to set the agenda for the rest of the news media. In the UK, four companies control 70% of the share of local newspapers and this is increasing year on year. Sixty five Local authority districts have no local daily and 55% are served by a single publisher. There is only one pan-London daily newspaper (the Evening Standard). Together with the Metro, the Standard has a complete monopoly on the printed news which feeds into the minds of Londoners on a daily basis (Londoners are more likely to use print news daily (45%), than the UK population (35%)) and are distributed free through London Transport concessions to millions travelling to work in London. They also have a rapidly growing online presence.
Digital media space and news intermediaries are dominated by unregulated tech companies and social media platforms with much larger revenues than any UK media organisation (largest £750m), particularly Amazon (£297bn), Apple (£226bn) and Facebook (£66bn). These companies exercise a considerable gatekeeping power over how UK audiences discover, access and consume media content; and to a very high degree use ‘legacy’ media content as their headline news items . While the UK has a number of independent news websites (openDemocracy, The Canary etc), traffic to these is tiny (1.2% of total) compared to the websites of legacy national media (96%) such as MailOnline and the Guardian.
The current extent of the concentration of news media ownership in London and the UK across all wholesale and retail distributers and platforms and social media is dangerous. Dangerous to democracy; to health and wellbeing; to society; to the economy; to sustainability and to the ecosystem. This concentration creates a situation where wealthy individuals and organisations have amassed political and economic power, which they use to distort news to suit their own interests, rather than the interests of the wider population and society.
We call on all Mayoral and GLA candidates to commit to recognize the importance of the media in achieving fair and sustainable social and economic development and health and wellbeing in London and to commit to carrying out a comprehensive REVIEW of the supply and consumption of new (digitally provided) media, as well as retail and wholesale print provision of news to Londoners. This will allow an open assessment of whether there is an adequate and fair diversity of viewpoints available and consumed across the city, and whether any media owner or voice is having excessive and unfair influence over public opinion and the political agenda.
This REVIEW should include:
- Funding for detailed quantitative and qualitative research among a representative sample of Londoners to understand their consumption of news media, and their view of whether available provision is fit for purpose and how it could be improved.
- An assessment of the consumption by Londoners of national, regional, local, community, diasporic and hyperlocal news sources across print, broadcasting, online, platform and social media and news aggregators.
- Construction of a database of London news sources by ownership, editorial control mechanisms, diversity, and freedom from influence of government and corporate interests.
- Working with independent media producers to assess the challenges they face, the potential for shared infrastructure and to consider how the Mayor and other public authorities can support their survival and development.
- Working with Public Service Media providers to assess their London provisions and consider how these can be better managed and diversified to: a) deliver a positive impact on economic and social development, the improvement of the health and wellbeing of Londoners andsupport sustainable development and address climate change; and to b) democratically solicit input from Londoners into editorial and programme making.
- Charging the Commissions (and other bodies under the Mayor’s control) set up to address Health, Health Inequalities, Wellbeing and Climate change to carry out work to review the evidence of the impact of the media and media ownership on their ability to achieve their mission, aims and objectives; and to use the findings to make recommendations for change.
- Exploring ways to ensure that a fair proportion of any future national tax revenue from potential digital platforms taxes is allocated to London and used to support independent media in in the city.
- Providing independently benchmarked assessment of all news media delivered to Londoners in terms of ownership, protection of journalists and news freedom and compliance with regulatory rules, and Leveson.
- Reviewing existing concessions to distribute free morning newspapers on London Transport sites and require news-stands/boxes to display facts about ownership, protection of journalists, news freedom and compliance with regulatory rules and Leveson principles.
- Working with platforms and social media to understand how they use Londoners’ data in algorithms to promote advertising and how this impacts the social, economic, and physical and mental health and wellbeing of Londoners and sustainability of the London economy and how these uses should change.
This review should inform the development of a comprehensive policy for the media and communications sector. This should include a Media and Communications Industries Board (MCIB) to focus support for social enterprise and community and public service compliant initiatives that strengthen employment access and diversity. Powers to raise additional funding for the MCIB from taxes and levies on commercial communication providers should be investigated. The media and communications policy should be integrated with information and education policies and wider Mayoral engagement with the incredible diversity and richness of London’s creative sectors, visual and performing arts, and libraries and digital communications and publishing.
The powers of the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority
This comprehensive plan of action fits well within the legal duties of the Mayor and the Greater London Authority (GLA). Under the Greater London Authority Act (1999), they have the power to take any action that they consider will promote their principal purposes: economic development, social development and the improvement of the environment in Greater London. The Mayor and the GLA can take such actions so long as they consider their combined impact on all of three of the Authority’s principal purposes. They also have legal duties to assess whether the impact of such actions will positively affect: the health of people in Greater London; the achievement of sustainable development in the UK; and climate change, its consequence. Further, any actions taken should not replicate things other statutory bodies are already doing.,,.
 Media plurality and news - a summary of contextual academic literature. Ofcom 2012. (Annex to Measuring media plurality. Ofcom 2012. https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0025/54574/annex7.pdf (accessed Mar 8, 2021).
 Measuring media plurality. Ofcom 2012. https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0031/57694/measuring-media-plurality.pdf(Accessed Mar 8, 2021).
 Inequality and media capture. M Petrova - Journal of public Economics, Volume 92, Issues 1–2, February 2008, Pages 183-212. https://www.nes.ru/dataupload/files/professors/mm68.pdf. (Accessed 18th Mar,2021)
 Derek A Epp, Jay T Jennings. Inequality, Media Frames, and Public Support for Welfare. Public Opinion Quarterly, nfaa043, https://doi.org/10.1093/poq/nfaa043.
 Debora Di Gioacchino, Alina Verashchagina. Mass media and preferences for redistribution. European Journal of Political Economy. Volume 63, June 2020, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejpoleco.2020.101887
 Eryn Campbell , John Kotcher , Edward Maibach ,Seth A. Rosenthal , Anthony Leiserowitz. Predicting the Importance of Global Warming as a Voting Issue Among Registered Voters in the United States. Current Research in Ecological and Social Psychology(2021), doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cresp.2021.100008
 Who owns the UK Media. Media Reform Coalition 2021. Who-Owns-the-UK-Media_final2.pdf (mediareform.org.uk)
 Greater London Authority Act 1999. Greater London Authority Act 1999 (legislation.gov.uk)
 Greater London Authority Act 2007. Greater London Authority Act 1999 (legislation.gov.uk)
 Localism Act 2011. Localism Act 2011 (legislation.gov.uk)
For further information head to the Media Reform Coalition website
Read all the Agenda for a Fairer London points:
• Press and the media