With the regulator, Ofcom, about to receive a report on the takeover of The Daily Telegraph (DT) by an investment fund ultimately controlled by a foreign national which was paused because of public interest concerns, here our Editor, Welshman Phil Parry who has been a journalist for 40 years, looks at the vital importance of having an independent and free media.
Earlier he described how he was assisted in breaking into the South Wales Echo office car when he was a cub reporter, recalled his early career as a journalist, the importance of experience in the job, and making clear that the ‘calls’ to emergency services as well as court cases are central to any media operation.
He has also explored how poorly paid most journalism is when trainee reporters had to live in squalid flats, the vital role of expenses, and about one of his most important stories on the now-scrapped 53 year-old BBC Wales TV Current Affairs series, Week In Week Out (WIWO), which won an award even after it was axed, long after his career really took off.
Phil has explained too how crucial it is actually to speak to people, the virtue of speed as well as accuracy, why knowledge of ‘history’ is vital, how certain material was removed from TV Current Affairs programmes when secret cameras had to be used, and some of those he has interviewed.
He has disclosed as well why investigative journalism is needed now more than ever although others have different opinions, how the current coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown is playing havoc with media schedules, and the importance of the hugely lower average age of some political leaders compared with when he started reporting.
Politicians, and others, bleat about how important it is, but do nothing about it!
I am talking, of course, about the central role in our society of having a free and independent media.
This has now been put centre stage by what is happening with ownership of the Daily Telegraph (DT) which (as well as being the bible for conservatives), has long been seen as a reliable source of news by journalists like me, because its copy is so good.
A long-running wrangle to take over the DT by the investment company RedBird IMI is about to come to a head, after it was paused following issuance of a Public Interest Intervention Notice, and in two days the culture secretary Lucy Frazer, will receive a report about it by the media watchdog Ofcom.
RedBird IMI looks all right on the surface (it is fronted by former CNN man Jeff Zucker), although the company is 75 per cent owned by Sheikh Mansour of Abu Dhabi.
In itself this is not a worry, but it will mean that a key part of the media in the UK will, in effect, be foreign-controlled.
Clearly RedBird IMI are voracious investors in the media world.
The company is a frontrunner to buy All3Media, the UK TV and film production business behind Fleabag and Call The Midwife.
This would be a deal worth about £1 billion, and if successful, it would underscore the ambitions of RedBird IMI to invest in the UK, where (apart from the DT) it has already agreed a deal to buy The Spectator magazine.
All3Media, which is run by Jane Turton, produces and sells other hit shows around the world, such as Gogglebox and The Traitors.
Ms Frazer has already informed RedBird IMI and the Barclay family (the previous owners of the DT) that she is concerned about public interest considerations by the takeover, as set out in Section 58 of the Enterprise Act 2002.
Meanwhile Ms Frazer has asked Ofcom to report on the public interest consideration of RedBird IMI buying the paper (the result of which lands on her desk on Friday), while the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) will inform her about jurisdictional and competition matters.
“My role as the Secretary of State in this process is quasi-judicial and procedures are in place to ensure that I act independently and follow a process which is scrupulously fair, transparent and impartial”, Ms Frazer has declared.
However this sounds to me as though it has come out of a Press Release, and is the kind of gibberish which reassures voters but doesn’t actually say ANYTHING, I therefore remain concerned.
Having a free and independent media is too important to just ‘follow a process’…
The memories of Phil’s astonishing decades-long award-winning career in journalism (when he was able to operate in a largely free environment) as he was gripped by the rare neurological disabling condition, Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now!
Regrettably publication of another book, however, was refused, because it was to have included names.