Tony Lloyd – 1986 Speech on Ownership of the Media

Below is the text of the speech made by Tony Lloyd, the then Labour MP for Stretford, in the House of Commons on 9 April 1986.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to restrict the shareholdings of non-United Kingdom individuals and companies in all newspaper, television and radio companies operating in the United Kingdom, and to place controls on the transfer of shareholdings in such companies.

It is inevitable that recent events at Wapping should have concentrated the public’s mind on the unaccountability and gross unacceptability of the conduct of Rupert Murdoch as a newspaper proprietor. I think that even Conservative Members will freely acknowledge that Rupert Murdoch’s contribution has not raised the standards of British journalism. His main contribution has been to introduce “page three” into our language, so perhaps we should not entrust to him the destiny of the British press.

Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)

He has even given gutters a bad name.

Mr. Lloyd

As my hon. Friend says, he has even given gutters a bad name. Yet, surprisingly, we are apparently free and happy to allow him to expand his interests throughout not only the press, but the media generally.

The purpose of the Bill is to examine the problem of concentration in the newspaper industry and, more generally, in radio and television. Our media industry is one of the most concentrated in the world. Eight companies or individuals control virtually the whole of the national daily and Sunday press.

Fourteen out of 16 independent television companies are individually controlled by 16 or fewer shareholders and, where full details are easily available of the 41 independent local radio contractors, all but one are controlled by fewer than 10 shareholders. There is a massive concentration, even at company level. To make matters worse, many of the shareholders are shareholders of other organisations, so that Rupert Murdoch not only controls News International, but is a significant shareholder in London Weekend Television.

The Mirror Group of Newspapers, for example, which controls the second largest slice of the British press, is a significant shareholder in Central Television. United Newspapers, the present owners of the Express stable, have significant shareholdings in Tyne-Tees, Yorkshire Television, Harlech Television, and TV-am. To make matters worse, what would seem highly improbable to someone entering Britain for the first time is that we exercise no control over where this ownership comes from. Thus, specifically 54 per cent. of the circulation of the national papers is in the hands of what are ultimately foreign-based companies.

We all know that recently, as an illustration of great patriotism, Murdoch renounced his Australian citizenship in order to embrace his new love—the United States. Yet at no time has there been any need for Murdoch to offer any allegiance to or care for this country in which he has such significant media holdings. It has been said that the same situation applies to a lesser extent to the Liechtenstein-based company which ultimately owns the Mirror Group of Newspapers.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

A Labour Member of Parliament.

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman seems to be under the impression that the proprietors of the Mirror Group of Newspapers are Labour Members of Parliament. Clearly he is as confused in his knowledge of the press as he is in most other areas.

Similar problems of concentration of ownership arise in the context of television and radio broadcasting. When the Rank Organisation recently made a well-publicised attempt to take over Granada Television, a statement by Rank at the time claimed that the combination of these two companies would be in the commercial interests of both. Yet at no stage was any mention made of an attempt to maintain journalistic standards or to protect the right of the public to have an acceptable quality of television output.

Those factors simply did not figure in the reasons why the Rank Organisation launched that attempted takeover. Nor did they figure in Ladbroke’s consideration of a merger with Granada. Fortunately, in the Rank case the Independent Broadcasting Authority decided that the takeover was unacceptable and ruled that it could not go ahead, and it did not go ahead. It may be thought, therefore, that the IBA has the power to stop the predatory activity of organisations in relation to radio and television companies, but that simply is not the case, because the logic that debarred the Rank Organisation from taking over Granada Television did not stop the Granada group of companies from having television broadcasting as a minor part of its activities, so that it accounts for less than 20 per cent. of Granada’s annual turnover. Thus, television is not a significant part of Granada’s corporate plan.

It is not surprising that the chairman of Rank said that it would be inequitable if action by the IBA was to obstruct Granada shareholders from benefiting from a Rank takeover. I have considerable sympathy for the Rank Organisation, not because the takeover was right but because it seems very peculiar that a takeover by one conglomerate should not be acceptable while another conglomerate can operate in much the same way. Of course, overseas it is common practice for there to be restrictions on the rights of transfer of shareholdings in the press and in television and radio companies. For example, we know that Rupert Murdoch’s motivation in becoming an American citizen was dictated not by any great love of Ronald Reagan—and I sympathise with that—but purely because American laws dictated that he could not be the owner of significant holdings in television companies if he were not a United States citizen. Ironically, because he had to take out American citizenship and renounce his Australian citizenship, Mr. Murdoch has now been forced by Australian laws to give up some holdings in Australian television companies.

What the Bills seeks to do is simple. It seeks to prevent non-United Kingdom residents from having significant shareholdings in companies which operate press, television or radio organisations and limits the size of individual shareholdings to prevent unacceptable behaviour such as that which we have witnessed from Eddie Shah and Rupert Murdoch, and which we have increasingly witnessed from directors whose only interest is economic and has nothing to do with the maintenance of standards. I am sure that the Bill will commend itself to the House.