A Wapping victory

On 26 July I spoke at a meeting on Murdoch organised by NUJ members and supported by the Defend the Right to Protest (DtRtP), at Conway Hall, London. Main speakers included Tony Benn, Michelle Stanistreet (NUJ general secretary) and Matt Foot, campaigning lawyer and DtRtP. I only had three minutes and here in full text of my contribution on behalf of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom.

It’s not often that you can come to a meeting like this and announce that we have won something. But we have. The last few days we have a great victory over the abuse of power, corruption and cronyism. Let’s dedicate that victory to the women and men of Wapping who 25 years ago had the vision and courage to stand up to Murdoch, and lost after a year of struggle.

It’s also strange feeling having everyone agreeing with you on key issues of media policy after over 30 years of campaigning for a diverse, democratic and representative media. But sometimes we didn’t get it quite right. In our magazine Free Press we wrote in June 2010 about the proposed take over saying that it was absolutely essential that complete control of BSkyB by Murdoch was just not nodded through by the government. We called on Vince Cable, who, in those days had control over competition policy, to trigger the public interest test, initiate a robust inquiry and encourage the widest public debate. Pessimistically we added that few in the industry expected this to happen, not without a big public campaign. We expected the deal to go through giving the Murdochs’ control of a media company with a turnover of £6.4 billion, which is four times that of ITV and half as much again as the BBC’s. It’s great to be wrong.

As you know that big public campaign happened. Thanks to the determination of investigative journalists led by the Nick Davies in the Guardian, who did so much to expose the abuses of power, rottenness and corruption inside the management of News International and the police, which gave encouragement and ammunition to  the wide coalition of campaigners, including internet pressure groups 38 Degrees and Avaaz . We now know tens of thousands of people were mobilised against the takeover. According to 38 Degrees, 100,000 people emailed MPs demanding the government act against the deal. In their words the British public proved we won’t stand for media barons defying our laws and our democracy. Avaaz wrote of 1 million on-line actions and that it’s an amazing time for our democracy and our community. ‘Together we took on the world’s most powerful media baron, opposing the biggest deal of his career, and won’.

So now we have a window of opportunity to change for the better the media in the UK, so that the public interest, not the commercial interests of the few, dominate. The media is not the private property of any media owner.

 Inquiries are often the British way of kicking difficult issues for the governing classes into the long grass. This must not happen with the Leveson Inquiry. We have build on that sense of public outrage which forced the Murdochs to withdraw their bid, to recast the media landscape to reflect the democratic values that we have been campaigning for.  We will with others play a leading role in helping organise and deliver evidence to the Inquiry into media ownership and press behaviour and regulation. There must be radical change in the structure of media ownership, the ethics of journalism and its regulation. Nothing less will be acceptable if we are to complete our victory in what has now become the second battle of Wapping.

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