Writing in the Guardian this week following the conviction of Andy Coulson and the acquittal of Rebekah Brooks in the News of the World Hacking Trial, Joan Smith, Executive Director of Hacked Off, argued that the real story that has emerged from the trial is the lack of corporate governance in Rupert Murdoch’s press empire. Shareholders, she argues, will wish to know how a criminal conspiracy could flourish for so long at its heart. The remedy, she argues, is an independent regulator as recommended by Leveson, not the grandly named Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) favoured by Murdoch and the other newspaper publishers which is simply the discredited Press Complaints Commission in a new guise.
This is all pie in the sky. Truly independent press regulation might discourage unprincipled journalism but it will do nothing to address the even more serious problem of the gross political bias displayed by our newspapers. Another example of this was provided this week by their failure to report on the Peoples Assembly demonstration in London. The BBC, which is ‘independently’ regulated, was, however, equally remiss on this. Independent regulation of the press and indeed other media will clearly do nothing to restrict the way in which the rich and powerful use the media to promote their own interests. After all, they appoint the regulator. The appropriate remedy for our appalling newspaper industry is to regulate its ownership.
An immediate and short-term remedy would be to outlaw non-residents such as Rupert Murdoch from owning or controlling shares in newspapers published in this county. This is a no-brainer. Non-residents should be neither allowed to vote in our elections nor to influence their outcomes. A more permanent and effective solution would, however, be provided by requiring newspapers, as a condition of publication, to be re-structured as co-operatives owned by their readers, with every shareholder-reader having one vote regardless of the number of shares they own. Impracticable? No – that’s the structure successfully adopted by the Morning Star, the world’s only English language socialist newspaper and the most reliable and objective source of news in the UK.
Two questions need to be addressed: how much compensation should be paid to the present owners? and how to overcome the EU treaty obligations to safeguard property rights above all other interests, including those of labour? The answers are straightforward. Compensation should be based on circulation revenue less operating costs, adjusted for any current exploitation of labour such as sub-living wages paid by the newspaper and its subcontractors. Advertising revenue should be disregarded in this calculation as it arises in the main from the newspaper’s misuse of political influence and exploitation of its monopoly power. Compensation would, as a result, be minimal and would be further reduced if the co-operation of the owners and management over the transfer were opposed or resisted. On the EU treaty obligations to safeguard property rights above all other interests, including labour, the solution is simple: we should leave the EU.