Concentration of power in a few hands has already gone too far in the media. To increase it further, as the Government intends, is to undermine our basic freedoms.
Five groups control nine out of 10 national daily and Sunday papers read in Britain today. Their proprietors are the most powerful, wealthy and, for the most part, reactionary of all opinion formers. Policies are decided not by the journalists, nor even the editors, but by the proprietors. As one Press Lord said: 'I give my editors complete freedom - so long as they agree with my views.'
It is less serious if there is monopoly ownership of, say, the margarine industry. If, however, it operates in the supply of news it means similar control of views. Instead of reducing their domination Peter Brooke, the National Heritage Secretary, plans this autumn to intensify it.
A great newspaper proprietor may have only one vote, but he publishes papers that influence the votes of millions every day of their lives. Admittedly, some of these papers are criticising the Government today, yet six months before the general election they will be singing or shouting its praise. When, in the Sixties, I chaired Labour's press and publicity committee, we recommended a policy of diversifying the media, limiting ownership to one national daily, Sunday and evening paper. It is enough. Now the Major Cabinet is moving in the opposite direction. The big press proprietors are also to be freed from their 20 per cent shareholding limit in television companies - a freedom they will certainly take.
If the Opposition parties do not fight this law, inside and outside Parliament, the public and democracy will suffer.
The writer was MP for Salford East 1955-83.Reuse content