If you’re looking for unbiased news sources UK media offers slim pickings. Alternative news and independent news media organisations are often hard to find. Everyone has an agenda, bias by nature, which is why trust is plummeting, because readers want unbiased news, as confirmed by the NYT. Journalism and content creation is in crisis. The Mainstream media or 'mass media' dominate the news narrative and this ultimately damages and limits the freedom of the press, which can slowly rot democracy and divide society.
Without a free, unbiased and unconflicted press, extremism and populism continues to rise, society is heading towards a post-truth, post-fact and post-democratic era. News media ownership is overly centralised & spun by corporate paymasters. Fake news damages trust and creditability, driving further erosion and nefarious co-option. The Association for Online Publishers estimates that the median annual publisher loses approx. 1 million pounds in revenue due to blocked ads.
Trust in the media is a phrase you hear bandied about a lot in at the moment. Namely, because there isn’t much of it. According to various studies, trust in the media is at an all time low. The idea of finding unbiased news sources in the UK seems like one of those quaint ideas that belongs to yesteryear. So where did it go wrong for the media?
The Media Reform Coalition Report on Media Ownership
What does it mean to have a ‘free’ media when the nation’s social media platforms, TV channels, news outlets, radio stations and search engines are owned by a handful of giant corporations? What does it mean to have ‘independent media outlets’, 'news coverage', 'fact based reporting', and right or left 'leaning' media bias ratings, when many of our most influential news organisations are controlled by individuals and Boards that are so closely connected with vested interests?
The Media Reform Coalitition's recent report shows that just three companies (News UK, DMG and Reach) dominate 83% of the national newspaper market (up from 71% in 2015). This is a market that may be shrinking in terms of print circulation but, assisted by large online audiences, is crucial when it comes to setting the agenda for the rest of the news media. When online readers are included, just five companies (News UK, DMG, Reach, Guardian and Telegraph) dominate some 80% of market share (up from 79% in 2015). In the area of local news, five conglomerates (Gannett, JPIMedia, Trinity Mirror, Tindle and Archant) account for 80% of all titles (it was six companies back in 2015) while 57 smaller publishers have less than 20% of the remaining titles.
Local newsrooms continue to haemorrhage journalists while we are facing an increasing number of news deserts given the fact that, as of 2017, two-thirds of Local Authority Districts do not have daily local newspaper coverage. Sky, bought by the US giant Comcast in 2018, is by far the UK’s biggest broadcaster and continues to dominate the pay TV landscape (although they now face significant challenges from companies like BT, Apple, Amazon and Netflix) with very deep pockets. ITV still makes huge profits on the back of its format sales and faces fewer and fewer obligations to serve domestic audiences.
Meanwhile, Channel 5 is already owned by another large US conglomerate, Viacom, while Channel 4’s public status remains unstable. Two companies have 46% of all commercial local analogue radio licences (up from 40% in 2015) and control two-thirds of all commercial digital stations. Bauer, Global and Celador Radio alone own over 50% of all commercial stations.
To what extent is the digital landscape any different to this? UK search is overwhelmingly dominated by Google while the most popular apps like Instagram and WhatsApp are owned by Facebook, itself by far the most popular social media site. Where there has been a shift since our last report is in the traffic going to ‘partisan’ sites like The Canary on the left and Westmonster on the right.
Yet digital news markets are still very much dominated by legacy news and especially by national newspaper titles with the dramatic rise of The Sun online, since dropping its paywall in 2015, being perhaps the key game changer in this picture. This means that the reach (and revenue) of some of the newer sites is marginal when we compare them with the big hitters of ‘legacy media’ – the biggest ‘partisan’ site (The Canary), for example, has a reach of less than 1% of either the Mail or the Guardian. Of course, the BBC remains a powerful presence in broadcasting and online but its budget has been severely cut by the last two licence fee deals, its independence has been undermined, and it is increasingly being told by government to be mindful of its impact on the wider commercial market. Recent studies suggest the BBC’s news agenda is also disproportionately influenced by the predominantly right-wing national press.
There is also the emerging brands of GB News, led by Andrew Neil and the Murdoch challenger News UK, whom both promise to offer 'US style' news commentary but focused on a UK audience. One can only surmise these channels will be presented in the FOX News, and more recently, CNN style opinionated commentary, rather than traditional news broadcasting. Time will tell what impact this will have on the UK news and democratic landscape. Given these shifting trends, democratic and transparent news organisations such as Bywire News and The Media Fund are needed now more than ever, holding the line of integrity with our partners, delivering factual news coverage based on a set of ethical principles.
Alternative news UK
The lack of faith in the media has led to the rise of alternative news in the UK. They come in all shapes and sizes. From the left we have the likes of Evolve Politics or Squawkbox. In the middle we have Byline Times which has been putting the mainstream media to shame with its coverage of the PPE scandals and failures, and on the right we have the likes of Breitbart and Guido .
The existence of alternative news in the UK has been the subject of intense hand wringing among the mainstream media. And while the web may be awash with disinformation and hate speech it is the failure of the mainstream to fulfil its role as impartial chroniclers of the world, we live in which has given them their foothold.
Much of the distrust comes from politicians. In the US Donald Trump launched a war on what he called ‘fake news’ as he sought to erode trust in the institutions designed to hold him to account. And it worked. Plenty of people in the US would stick with Trump through thick and thin. As he put it ‘he could shoot someone in the head in Time Square and people would still vote for him’.
However, the mainstream has also had a hand in its own demise. Multiple studies show how bias and misinformation has crept into the biggest media outlets on the market. We’ve come to accept that the daily Newspapers exist less to inform rather than promote the agendas of their billionaire bosses.
However, it’s when we see this same disease creeping into the supposedly more respectable broadcast media that we truly see how sick the media has become. The BBC is supposed to be a bastion of independent journalism. Decade after decade it has stood firm against government attempts to bend it to its will, but today those defences are beginning to creek.
The BBC’s coverage has ceased to be impartial. Decision makers move freely between the Beeb and the Tory communications office. The ‘anonymous government source’ is quoted without scrutiny or context by reporters who seem contempt to indulge in the kind of client journalism which would have made Goebbels envious.
Thanks to them, the search for unbiased news in the UK has become a bit like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. You can see where it should be but try as you might you can never reach it. While they fail in their duty alternative news in the UK will rise to fill in the gaps, and Bywire News is part of this solution.