This article is published on behalf of David M Gibson.
Watching a humbled Rupert Murdoch address the select committee earlier this week made me think of dinosaurs. The earliest of the ‘thunder-beasts’ were small, forgettable creatures, living in a dangerous world of high interspecies competition. At their peak, they had reached awe-inspiring heights, seemingly untouchable through their bulk alone.
By the late-Cretaceous era, the reality was that evolutionary arms race was being lost and that, despite their intimidating weaponry, real competition was going on underfoot, as smaller creatures feasted on their eggs and contributed to their fate. A similar cycle reoccurred post-mass extinction, when the world’s new megafauna were almost entirely eradicated by climate and mankind. It is likely that, one day, it will be the bugs and the bacteria that will do for humans in turn.
The problem is that big beasts do not adapt very well. Despite the (somewhat unfortunate) acquisition of MySpace, News Corp has a negligible online presence. Murdoch’s obsession has too often been his news media and it now appears that he may fall into the trap of clinging too hard to print media, even though it contributes a small part to his personal empire.
Assuming that the Murdochs were truthful in their testimonies to Parliament, their heads were too high off the ground to either willingly or effectively probe at the moral rot beneath. In hacking, blagging and bribing, severe risks were taken to get at the eaves of the tallest trees, seemingly without a sense of mortality. It should have been obvious that at some point this would all come out, especially with the planned BSkyB acquisition inflaming Murdoch’s opponents in the media.
Similar problems of corporate governance can be seen in the string of BP’s technical failures involved in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the development of dodgy investment packages at Lehman Brothers. All three had a presence in politics and were considered to be too big to fail [or at least, to take on – Ed]. The damage done by big beasts like these should remind us that it its dangerous to concentrate power. The rot of our almost uniquely unaccountable media has spread to our politicians and police. It has not just jeopardised the personal privacy of the famous, but of countless individuals the press has frenzied upon.
As round two of the phone-hacking scandal comes to an end, it is disturbing that so few voices are addressing the real problem. Prior to the scandal, three media companies controlled 80% of the purchased print media market. While a report by Ofcom noted that, in 2009, print media was the main source of news for only 8% of the public, it would probably rate far higher for opinion-shaping. Newspapers are more opinionated and partial than television and radio news, more esteemed than new media and more articulate than live debate. The political lesson of ‘Hackgate’ should be the need to prevent corporations from accumulating such influence.
Nick Clegg’s plans for better regulation of the media may help this, but this is about competition where, as in evolution, even the big beasts are not untouchable and a single disaster can bring them down. What Clegg’s measures lack are three things: an end to politicians having a say in commercial acquisitions, whether Jeremy Hunt or Vince Cable; effective independent bodies to prevent purposeful accumulations of large market share; and a reduction in any tax or regulation which significantly impedes entrance to the marketplace by new players.
Real competition would mean executives and share-holders keeping a close eye on their corporate culture. After all, we wouldn’t let dinosaurs evolve in our society, why let commercial monsters do the same?
David M Gibson is a classical liberal and a member of the Liberal Democrats. He is currently interning at the Freedom Association. A collection of his writings can be found at davethedystopian.blogspot.com, as well as on the Freedom Association website.