Mandelson's grave warning over future viability of press

  • Regional and local print media are struggling to keep alive,’says Mandelson
  • Technology enabled ‘less scrupulous journalists to be even more intrusive’
  • Mandelson asks: ‘Is it adequate that the Guardian is now effectively a charity?’

The rise of digital technology has led to a ‘desperate scramble for circulation’and the ‘tabloidisation’of the UK national press, according to former cabinet minister Lord Mandelson.

He argued that the British media was the ‘largest, single national market’of its kind in the world – giving it ‘more scale and influence’than other countries.

‘The political message is literally mediated across the nation by a small number of people, albeit with varying degrees of professionalism, prejudice and judgement,’he said, adding: ‘That is power.”

But the rise of technology was now ‘undermining the business models of conventional media organisations’and led to a ‘relative decline of the UK print media market”, Mandelson said in his written statement to the Leveson Inquiry.

‘Only the Mail and Telegraph groups are profitable at a national level. Regional and local print media are struggling to keep alive.

‘Each paper has pursued their own strategy for survival. In many ways, the ‘tabloidisation’ of the media has been the industry’s response – a rather desperate scramble for circulation which has tended to result in a race to the bottom of the market, with notable exceptions.

Technology had also enabled ‘less scrupulous journalists to be even more intrusive and even less concerned about privacy than before”, which was demonstrated by the phone-hacking scandal.

‘Can of worms’

He later said that many of the issues of wrongdoing being discussed by the inquiry were ‘historic’and that we ‘live in a much more transparent age”.

‘The era when politicians and journalists could operate in the shadows is well and truly over,’he said.

‘The whole can of worms, if that is how people perceive it, will have a lingering death but does anyone imagine that a Murdoch or Murdoch equivalent will be welcomed back into Downing Street as before, or that a minister will again sit down to a cosy fireside chat over mulled wine in Oxfordshire with their favourite mogul to discuss media regulation? No.

‘I think both sides are rapidly learning the lessons, and life will not go on as before.”

Mandelson urged the Government to also look at the issues of the future – such as how to ‘to develop trusted media brands when their business models are coming under sustained threat”, adding: ‘Is it adequate that the Guardian is now effectively a charity and the Independent has been saved by a benign Anglophile Russian family ?

‘How can we ensure that the line between news and opinion which became blurred in print some time ago is not made even fuzzier by social media and bloggers?

‘How can our domestic media market be subject to some form of self-regulation in an era when access to news respects no national boundaries?”

He said the Leveson Inquiry should also look into how bloggers and social media were regulated

‘I realise the Inquiry is looking at digital media with a print history, but this hardly amounts to coming to grips with the internet as a whole,’he said.

Mandelson believes that media companies were being ‘ransacked”, governments were ‘losing control of the information flow’and the public were ‘being given access to a flood of undigested and unmediated ‘news’, all in the name of free speech”.

He concluded: ‘Important as are the issues of who said what to whom about the Communications Act 2003, or the boasts of self-aggrandising media lobbyists and the intriguing new meaning of ‘LOL,’ it seems to me that there are bigger media issues confronting our society.

‘I do not know what the answers are, but I can sense a runaway train when it is hurtling down the track towards me and I wonder who or what is going to control it.”

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