Media for All: Solving convergence and ownership consolidation problems

As the traditional media continue their seemingly inexorable decline, how can journalists use new media to fulfil their remit to provide information and hold to power to account?  Journalists, academics and activists gathered in Bloomsbury, London last Saturday (October 31) to try to find an answer.

The Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom’s (CPBF) Media for All conference aimed to tackle problems posed by technological convergence and ownership consolidation in the media industry.

Topics covered included the friction between increasingly consolidated media ownership and democracy, gaps and biases in news reporting, threats to local and regional news, and protecting and campaigning for diverse and high quality media.

“The collapse of people who are actually communicating is radical, it’s ongoing and it’s extreme,” said John Nichols, correspondent on American news magazine The Nation.

“In the USA today there are roughly 3,000 people working on the internet making news. Last year alone 16,000 newspaper employees lost their jobs.

“The internet is not replacing old media.  At best it is aggregating old media.”

Graham Murdock, author of Media in the Age of Marketization, spoke of the danger of powerful commercial interests closing off the creative commons offered by the internet.

Net neutrality was an issue, he said, citing how private media companies lobby for priority of access to the internet.

This must be countered by an online ‘revivification of public cultural institutions’, and the creation of alternative information networks to counter those being created by private companies, he added.

NUJ president Jeremy Dear looked how the crisis was affecting local news, taking as an example the closure of the Long Eaton advertiser last year, leaving the town with no local news outlet.  “The Long Eaton Advertiser was not a victim of the recession, it was a victim of a failed corporate culture,” said Dear.

Dear continued: “At the heart of our campaign must be the total rejection that profit must be the determinant of the success of local news.

“It’s that threat that led our union to launch the ‘Journalism Matters’ campaign, based on the premise that the supply of information is too important to be left to private companies.”

Dear called for a campaign to exert political pressure in the run up to the next general election: “Be assured that editors and owners are out there wining and dining the politicians,” he said.

“In the run-up to any vote we will be mobilising days of action.  These are battles for jobs, but they are also all about people standing up for local news.  We need to make the media an election issue.”

Damien Gayle is a postgraduate journalism student at City University, London.

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