Sunday, July 17, 2011

A chance to hack at free speech

It has been impossible for anyone in the UK, and indeed anyone following foreign news to avoid the rampant coverage over the phone hacking scandal arising from repulsive practices from scandal mongering "journalists" at the now defunct News of The World.

Let's be clear, the practice of phone hacking and illegally accessing people's voicemail accounts is immoral, it is an invasion of private property rights and rightfully should be condemned.  Indeed, there should be no surprise that those who accessed the voicemail of a murdered teenager girl should be considered to be scum.  Bottom feeders of the lowest order.   That this should occur doesn't wholly surprise me, because "journalism" and "news" have long been strongly driven by feeding the vapid, scandal seeking, short-term "infotainment" appetite of so many people.  The same people who complain about government failures in areas from economics, to education and healthcare, are completely disengaged at any intelligent level with public policy, because they soak up "crime porn".  In a free market, it is little surprise that people supply this.

In the UK, the market is served by multiple providers, News International continues to publish The Sun, but there is also the left-wing Daily Mirror, the even more sensationalist Daily Star and hoards of celebrity scuttlebutt magazines.   The US has similar scandal rags, and New Zealand supplies this market through magazines, and television.

There is little doubt to me that those who undertook and authorised the phone hacking at the News of the World should face criminal charges and appropriate sanctions.  However, it is also worthy for there to be a wider reflection of a culture that salivates at the details and scandals behind crimes and the lives of celebrities.   Whilst in a free society I don't believe there is ANY role for the state in restricting speech around this, there is very much a role to debate publicly why so many prefer to be entertained about the lurid details of the victims of brutal violent or sexual crimes.

Yet the phone hacking scandal has barely scratched the surface of that issue in the rest of the UK news media.  No, a bigger hobby horse has been rolled out - it is the venal hatred of much of the media for News International and Rupert Murdoch.

The hatred has driven Leader of the Opposition, (red) Ed Miliband to call, in the Observer,  for the "dismantling" of Murdoch's "Empire" with new regulations on media ownership.   Miliband claims Murdoch has "too much power" over UK public life, because his newspapers have more than 20% market share.  Yes, 20% is too much power.   Indeed, the leftwing news media (Daily Mirror, The Guardian, The Independent, the BBC, ITN and Channel 4) have all been joining the circus to demand change, along with the competing right wing media (Daily Express, Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph) to cauterise News International.

Precious few journalists have pointed out that this is blatant self interest on behalf of the media outlets wanting less competition, and indeed no one has ever pointed out any issues with News International's other titles being The Times/Sunday Times or Sky News. 

The unadulterated lies spread by the left on News International are the heaving rabid frothing rants of the insane.  Let's look at this so-called "power".

The UK newspaper market can be split between serious, middle market and "tabloid" newspapers.

The papers owned by News International in the UK are:
- The Times/Sunday Times; and
- The Sun.

The Times/Sunday Times competes with the Daily Telegraph/Sunday Telegraph, The Independent,  The Guardian/Observer and the Financial Times at the serious end of the market.

News International doesn't have a presence in the middle market, which includes the Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday, Daily Express/Sunday Express.

In the tabloid market, it does lead with The Sun, but competes with Daily Mirror and the Daily Star.

Beyond newspapers, it is the largest shareholder of BSkyB, the first and most successful pay TV provider, but with vigorous competition from Virgin Media and BT Vision, which further limited competition from Tiscali TV and TopUp TV.    However, whilst owning a pay TV network (that supplies over 700 TV and radio stations to its subscribers) is significant, it only runs one TV news outlet - Sky News - which is also broadcast free to air on digital terrestrial TV (Freeview).  This is one of 15 news channels, and of course access to news on free to air TV which is carried by BSkyB.   Including Sky News, it owns four channels on digital Freeview.

News International has no ownership of the British radio market.

Dominance? Hardly.  The newspaper market is open and vigorously competitive, so much so that of the serious titles only the Telegraph and FT are profitable.  Pay TV has never been more competitive.   Indeed, nobody need consume anything of News International without choosing to pay for it.

However, one organisation DOES have dominance. 

It has six free to air TV networks in the UK (plus a global satellite network), two of which are in the top three rating of ALL TV networks, and one of which is the highest rating TV news network.  Two channels it runs are continuous programming for children.  It has ten continuous broadcasting nationwide radio networks (including the most popular radio network and the most popular news network) and a nationwide network of local radio stations.  It has the highest rating news website in the country.  However, unlike customers of the Sun, the Times or BSkyB, this organisation is funded by force.  If you fail to pay, you face criminal prosecution and a fine.   It has been positively salivating over this story - it is, of course, the BBC.

The left don't give a damn when it is the state dominating the media, because it almost inherently gives it a fairly easy ride.   For your political future is significantly affected by how the BBC portrays you, but for the likes of the Milibands, Poly Toynbee or others that is something they like, because the BBC has never been warm towards the free market, scepticism about the EU or concerns about the size of the state, but has always been warm towards more welfare, environmentalism and belief in government as a solution to problems.  As Janet Daley in the Sunday Telegraph explains:

It is worth asking in both the British and American contexts why people who regard themselves as believers in free speech and liberal democracy can be so openly eager to close off – silence, kill, extinguish – different political views from their own. This is the question that is at the heart of the matter and which will remain long after every News International executive who may possibly be incriminated in the current scandal has been purged. 

There is scarcely any outfit on the Right – be it political party, or media outlet – which demands the outright abolition of a Left-wing voice, as opposed to simply recommending restraint on its dominance (as I am with the BBC). That is because those of us on the Right are inclined to believe that our antagonists on the Left are simply wrong-headed – sometimes well-intentioned, sometimes malevolent but basically just mistaken. Whereas the Left believes that we are evil incarnate. Their demonic view of people who express even mildly Right-of-centre opinions (that lower taxes or less state control might be desirable, for example) would be risible if it were not so pernicious.

The Left does not want a debate or an open market in ideas. It wants to extirpate its opponents – to remove them from the field. It actually seems to believe that it is justified in snuffing out any possibility of our arguments reaching the impressionable masses – and bizarrely, it defends this stance in the name of fairness. 

News International brought immense choice in British broadcasting, beyond the means or the imagination of the encumbents.  It created a fourth US TV network at a time when the big three were looking  sclerotic (and there was much talk of one of them dropping network news entirely), it created a TV news network that competes with CNN and MSNBC by taking a different political stance from them.  One that has been immensely successful, which of course upsets those who were always given an easy ride by the media. 

News International has been successful because it has delivered options that millions have been willing to pay for or watch.  The behaviour of some at the News of the World has been disgraceful, and quite frequently I don't like how News International deals with some news stories, as I do with others.  However, I don't have to pay for it, I wont get a criminal record if I don't pay for it.   It doesn't stop others competing with it.  It is one of many in the broadcasting or online news markets, and is one of many in the newspaper market.   It has shaken up news broadcasting in the US, not always in ways I agree with, but it is better for it.

It should be time for the rest of the news media to realise that in joining in the leftwing wailing and moaning about News International, and calls for regulating the media, it is risking its own freedom and supporting a political motivated war against one media outlet, driven by many years of distress at not getting an easy ride from that company's news outlets.  

You either believe in a free press and free speech, or you don't, and as long as News International is accountable for the criminal actions of its employees, that should be the end of it.  You may disagree or hate the views expressed, but if you want them shut down by the state (while turning a blind eye to the media outlets that ARE dominant, particularly those state owned) then you are simply another petty fascist, who has no interest in free speech at all - and shouldn't start pretending that you're a friend of freedom or liberal democracy.

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