Osborne's New Job is a Threat to Our Free Press | Callum Gurr

I was confused to find out on Friday that George Osborne had been appointed the new editor of the London Evening Standard, given his lack of journalistic experience. It struck me as an affront to those, like me, who aspire to be journalists; the top job will not be given based upon hard work and experience, instead it will be given out based upon a failed Chancellorship which failed to cut the deficit in the time he promised the electorate. Yet, my confusion turned to anger when I found out that not only was failure being rewarded, but he was not even going to do the decent thing and quit his full time job of serving his constituents as MP in Tatton.

The fact that Osborne could take a job as an editor for a paper based over 175 miles from his constituency shows the mask has slipped off for Osborne; he is a career politician shipped into a safe Tory seat, in short, he doesn’t give a damn about his constituents. But the bigger mask that Osborne’s new double, or dare I say triple job (he is also a part-time advisor at global investment group Black Rock) unveiled was the illusion that we in the United Kingdom have a free press at all. How can a newspaper claim to be non-partisan when its own editor is a current sitting MP for the governing Conservative party? 

A stitched-up press is not limited to the Evening Standard though, with nationally the press being in the hands of a select clique of media moguls. Rupert Murdoch controls over 30% of national newspaper circulation through News Corp and Viscount Rothermere controls over 20% of national newspaper circulation through DMG Media, meaning over 50% of national newspaper readership is in the hands of 2 people. Even accounting for print, online and mobile readership combined, these two men hold at least 30% of the market share. Evidently, our press is not free because it is a monopoly in effect; concentrated in a select few hands.

The reason why having such a monopoly is a problem is that if say one of these men decides they have a problem with a certain group, for example immigrants, then these owners could order their writers to produce articles that portray a group in a bad light; to gradually shift public opinion against the particular group. If you don’t believe this has happened, I ask you to look at the front pages of the Express, Sun or Mail on a given day and I guarantee at least one of these papers will have an anti-migration story on its front page. The journalists who produce such articles don’t do so because its news per say, they do it because they know it will please the owner; the person with the real control in an organisation to hire, promote and fire.

Osborne will edit the London Evening Standard, despite his lack of journalism experience
Of course we cannot blame entirely the anti-immigration sentiment upon the media barons. People do have genuine concerns surrounding migration in their local area, about the effects it will have upon jobs and precious spaces in schools and hospital beds. But these fears are certainly fuelled by such newspapers, pitting these problems as an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ conundrum, when in reality it’s more of a case of both groups trying to do best by their family.  To break down these fears people have surrounding migration we do not need to give into the scapegoating sentiment that Murdoch and co encourage. Instead, we break down the source of these exaggerated fears; the media monopoly. We ensure no one person can have a significant stake in more than one newspaper (excluding weekend/Sunday editions – which would likely be considered the same newspaper).

Admittedly, breaking up the media monopolies will not necessarily mean good journalism. But what it does mean is that the customer has the ability to boycott a paper that spreads hate knowing that it will hit the purse strings of the true source; the owner, in a way that current monopolies prevent. More than this though, breaking up the monopolies will prevent one person holding significant sway over government in the way they currently do. If you don’t believe that this happens, consider Murdoch’s News International’s backing of Brexit and his quote ‘When I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice’. Clearly, the United Kingdom abdicated its free press a long time ago yet it’s time to get it back, or we can expect our society to become more divided than ever. 

Callum Gurr is a writer for Student Voices and student at the University of Birmingham Twitter: @callumgurr
Osborne's New Job is a Threat to Our Free Press | Callum Gurr Osborne's New Job is a Threat to Our Free Press | Callum Gurr Reviewed by Student Voices on 11:56 Rating: 5

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