Never let it be said that I capture or anticipate popular opinion – and certainly not when it comes to media matters.
I recently tweeted that Johann Hari is a great writer. Less than a week later he announced that he was prone to lifting quotations wholesale and presenting them as remarks he had extracted from interviewees - whilst denying that such arrant behaviour constituted plagiarism.
I began tweeting only under sufferance, having been insistent that the practice was worthless. Within a few minutes I was addicted and now I make Stephen Fry look positively indifferent about the medium (albeit in terms of enthusiasm rather than number of followers).
Yet despite these howlers I remain calmly convinced that the general mood about one aspect of the big media story of the day is wrong. We do not need and should not have controls on media market share.
Few of us sustained long-term romantic relationships with women when I was in the Conservative Research Department. I suspect this phenomenon can be largely explained by the fact that we spent an inordinate amount of time reading and discussing Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged. (I know of one person who claims to have read the thing in a night; he must either be a lunatic or consume amphetamines on an Olympian level or both.)
It’s a flawed novel and you’re probably too busy seeking out and maintaining relationships with well-rounded people to read it. But it is a brilliant defence of capitalism. Most invigoratingly, Rand makes the case (at punishing length) for individual liberty and shows how this moral good is incompatible with clipping people’s wings when they get too successful – and how ultimately everyone suffers.
While we’re on the subject of utopian fantasy, let us consider some myths.
One myth is that one company cannot provide diversity. That is palpable nonsense. Supermarkets stock all manner of goods. Fox News is a very different beast to Sky News. The Sun and The Times are profoundly different too, and they often take different editorial positions. Not only are the days of three television stations long gone, so are the days when moving images could only be consumed on a TV set.
An even more damaging myth is that big businesses necessarily tend towards corruption. Scale has numerous benefits – Rupert Murdoch cross-subsidises culturally important but less-than-profitable parts of his empire. His investment in football has transformed the game.
Few critics of News International bemoan the size of the BBC. I like the fact that the BBC is big too. It means it can do all sorts of things a smaller outfit could not. It does lots of them world-beatingly well. I just don’t like the fact that is financed by a compulsory poll tax collected on pain of imprisonment.
Which brings us to another myth: if one organisation gets too big other providers just can’t compete. When the public is dissatisfied with what one organisation has to offer (and it isn’t always – sometimes a market tends towards a monopoly because one company is brilliant) then competitors will emerge. That’s why we still have the Guardian, Mail, Telegraph, Independent and Mirror groups in this country – and even The Morning Star (and I rather doubt that it is Rupert Murdoch’s fault that so few people want to pour over that publication as they try to digest their breakfast).
Some of what is alleged to have occurred goes beyond the disgraceful and is actually depraved. There absolutely is a need for a fit and proper person test. But scale alone does not equal deviance. If the mighty have transgressed the law they should feel its full force. Justice is a fine motive. Envy is not. It is not fair on the individual and in the end it spites and deprives us all.