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Study notes

Who Owns the UK Media?

  • Levels: A Level
  • Exam boards: AQA, Edexcel, OCR, Eduqas, WJEC

There is no doubt that the ownership of the mainstream media in the UK is concentrated in very few hands.

A statistic is often shared on social media that “five billionaires own 80% of the UK media”. Who are these five people? Supposedly:

  • Rupert Murdoch (owner of News International)
  • Richard Desmond (who was the owner of the Express)
  • Viscount Rothermere (owner of of the Mail)...
  • and the two Barclay Brothers (owners of the Telegraph)

These billionaires are indeed, key players, and there is no doubt that the ownership of the mainstream media in the UK is concentrated in very few hands.

Certainly, a very small number of corporations own the bulk of media companies. News UK (part of News International owned by Rupert Murdoch), the Daily Mail and General Trust (run by Viscount Rothermere) and Reach PLC (formerly Trinity Mirror, whose CEO is Simon Fox and who have now bought the Express) own over 70% of the newspaper market in the UK. Even regional newspapers are now owned by a small number of newspaper groups, rather than run locally and independently.

Other key players, outside newspapers, are Sky (controlling interest, 20thCentury Fox, part of News International owned by Rupert Murdoch – although this many change as Disney are interested in the company), ITV (CEO Carolyn McCall) and Channel 5 (owned by US media giant, Viacom). There are also other important players in media production, such as Disney (who may soon own Fox) and online communication (such as Facebook and Youtube). Youtube is owned by Google.

There are also a couple of important public service organisations. By far the largest is the state broadcaster, the BBC. There is also Channel 4 which is also publicly owned, but there are regular discussions about privatising it.

While it is possible to overstate the power of these media moguls in the UK, after all newspaper sales have been falling rapidly for many years, and many more people get their news from the BBC, their dominance of the newspaper market is undeniable.

The term media mogul refers to an individual who owns a significant share of a media company, arguably providing them with significant control over that company’s media content.

The classic example of a media mogul is Rupert Murdoch, who owns a number of newspapers and TV broadcasting companies around the world. Curran (2003) points out that it has always been this way: in 1937 four men owned approximately half of all newspapers sold nationwide (including local newspapers).

Key features of UK media ownership

Some features of media ownership in UK today include:

  • Horizontal integration This is where a media company will expand, often by buying or merging with competitors in a similar section of the market to them.
  • Media convergence This is where different media corporations join with other companies to offer a product or service. For example, Microsoft’s Windows operating system is used on Samsung mobile phone technology. This is in contrast to Apple, that uses its own software system in its phone technology.
  • Global conglomerates This refers to companies that consist of a lot of different businesses/interests that may operate on an international level. Many media companies have businesses across different countries.

The big sociological debate about the ownership of the UK media is about whether this picture of a media owned by a handful of billionaire barons is still accurate, and also whether those who own the media also control it.

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