United Kingdom in Media Influence Matrix
Des Freedman, UK project coordinator
(this is an excerpt from the UK Media Influence Matrix Final Report)
This report provides a comprehensive and timely overview of the UK media landscape with a particular emphasis on the key institutions shaping the regulatory environment, the funding and consumption of news, and the impact of big tech on the production and consumption of journalism.
It is, however, also a warning about the direction of travel of a media system that was for so long seen as a beacon of high-quality, critically acclaimed, innovative and independent content. At its best, the UK media sought to hold power to account and to provide audiences with a range of output that would allow them more effectively to participate as citizens. At its worst, it deferred to powerful institutions and individuals, generated sensationalist and hurtful headlines and reproduced paternalistic assumptions about British society and politics.
This report suggests that without purposeful and creative interventions, the UK’s media landscape is heading towards a situation in which public interest aspirations will be seen as a quaint reminder of a distant era. Instead, UK media will be increasingly shaped by the corporate priorities of powerful tech companies and streaming services while its news outlets will be increasingly susceptible to clickbait journalism and right-wing media moguls desperately trying to hold on to their last vestiges of power and influence.
The report also reminds us of the dangers of elite influence on opaque policymaking processes and calls for a commitment to transparency and independence in the conduct of media governance and regulation. Political interference in policymaking remains a real threat – as we have seen with discussions over the fate of Ofcom, Channel 4 and the BBC – while the government remains reluctant even to acknowledge traditional news organisations as a source of online harm.
What is the most effective way to challenge this slippery slope towards greater control of our media landscape by ravenous tech platforms and unaccountable politicians? How can we secure and expand freedom of expression in ways that will stimulate open and informed debate on the key issues of our times whether that is combating climate change, racial injustice or endemic inequality?
The report suggests that both existing and legacy structures of public service broadcasting, journalism and tech can’t be relied upon to deliver a democratic media system. Instead we need to develop new ways of making policy that aren’t captured by existing elites and that include a commitment to tackle the growing concentrations of power that dominate our communications systems. We need new funding streams to support independent media that can better represent the full diversity of the UK population and we need to prise open the continuing grip on our media of vested interests.
This report and the subsequent recommendations are a crucial starting point in that debate.
Des Freedman is Professor of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London where is also co-Head of Department of Media, Communications and Cultural Studies. He is a founding member of the Media Reform Coalition and project lead for Lord Puttnam’s 2016 Inquiry into the Future of Public Service Broadcasting. He is the author of ‘The Politics of Media Policy’ (2008), ‘The Contradictions of Media Power’ (2014), ‘Misunderstanding the Internet’ (2017, with James Curran and Natalie Fenton) and ‘The Media Manifesto’ (2020, with Natalie Fenton, Justin Schlosberg and Lina Dencik).