BBC’s ‘Local Democracy Service’ broadens mass media cartel’s monopolistic network

In this second installment of a series about “new” media outlets being trumpeted as untainted “saviors of democracy” that supposedly deliver fresh, genuinely diverse perspectives on both sides of the proverbial pond, UK Column would be seriously amiss not to deeply explore the British Broadcasting Corporation’s “Local Democracy Reporting Service,” or LDRS, and, in so doing, reveal a significant part of “the big picture” of the legacy media’s structure and control.

Amid a number of unresolved issues and unanswered questions, the core problem—according to the British Media Journal—is that the the LDRS itself, which was sired by the BBC in 2017, is having serious accountability problems regarding where the £8 million annual subsidy needed to fuel the LDRS actually goes. 

We mustn’t allow the sheer irony of this situation escape our grasp. The whole stated rationale of the BBC creating the LDRS in the first place is to employ energetic journalists to cover the local decision-making process and to hold local governing councils accountable across the UK. 

This is being done by financing upward of 150 reporters via the BBC’s license fee-based public subsidy. A total yearly outlay of £8 million pays these statist scribblers. But the non-BBC, local editorial offices where they’re stationed to do their work, are reportedly given considerable leeway on the news content, so long as the BBC’s general guidelines are followed. 

Notably, the eligible existing local newsrooms that don’t have an “in-house” LDRS reporter assigned to them are still given access to the news stories the LDRS reporters produce. Thus, the “news dearth,” or local “news droughts,” that our esteemed government leaders, sundry media moguls, think-tankers and other influencers insist will be the death of us all—because traditional news outlets have been failing en masse, and because the absence of news coverage in a given area will quickly breed runaway corruption—must be filled, and, not to worry, The LDRS will come to the rescue.


All hail the ‘Big Three’

The BMJ, in a June 2020 overview of the LDRS on the Sage Journal website, revealed that the bulk of the BBC funding supports the UK's “Big Three” regional media groups to keep their investors and stockholders happy, which doesn’t necessarily coincide with producing quality journalism with which to fill local news “voids” with meaningful coverage of local government. In fact, the scheme lurches toward reinforcing monopolistic dominance of the news industry by its biggest players.

Those three companies are:

  • Reach PLC: 
  • National World, formerly JPIMedia; and
  • Newsquest Media Group, owned by the American media company Gannett.

Representing the BMJ, writers Steve Barnett and Roy Greenslade wrote the following in their above-noted Sage Journal article, while pointing out that this media trio publishes no less than 75% of the UK’s local newspapers:

Well before the lockdown [the lockdown hurt legacy/traditional media outlets even more by forcing news staff layoffs and downsizing the business sector, thereby cutting into ad revenues] the big three regional groups—Reach PLC, JPI Media and Newsquest—were engaged in a strategy of ruthless retrenchment. The trio, which together publish more than three-quarters of the nation’s [the UK’s] local newspapers, had been closing titles, hollowing out local newsrooms with city hubs, and making journalists redundant. The obvious result was a worrying democratic deficit, an information vacuum, in which there was inadequate scrutiny for local government, public bodies, institutions and businesses.

Notably, Reach PLC’s publications cover a broad geographical area, consisting of leading nationwide media brands such the Mirror, Express, Daily Record and the Daily Star, as well as miscellaneous more specific titles such as MyLondon, BelfastLive, the Manchester Evening News, the Liverpool Echo, the Irish Star and WalesOnline

Looking at Reach PLC’s Board, its Chairman Nick Prettejohn is a banker and insurance man, not a media careerist. His previous appointments include: “Chairman of the Financial Services Practitioner Panel, the Britten-Pears Foundation, Brit Insurance [. . .] Non-Executive Director of Lloyds Banking Group plc, the Prudential Regulation Authority and Legal & General plc; Member of the BBC Trust; and CEO of Prudential UK and Europe, and Lloyd’s of London,” as his online CV notes (that link shows the whole Board). 

And while CEO Jim Mullen’s background is mainly in advertising and communications, Independent Non-Executive Director Anne Belford was “Deputy Director General of the BBC and Chief Operating Officer of Channel 4,” as well as “Chair of the Audit Committee of the Executive Committee of the Army Board, and Audit Committee Chair of Ofcom and the Ministry of Justice.”

As for JPI Media, two years ago it was rebranded National World PLC, whose head office is in Leeds. (JPI’s predecessor was Johnston Press, which existed from 1769 to 2018). 

“Since purchasing JPIMedia, National World PLC has launched 16 new titles and made a further seven acquisitions—notably Insider Media,” Wikipedia notes, while stating that National World’s service area is “worldwide.” National World’s flagship publications include the Scotsman, the Yorkshire Post, and the English-speaking world’s oldest daily news title, Belfast’s The News Letter. The company reported 2022 revenues of $84.1 million. Its principal area of activity is the print publishing sector, while it also has a large portfolio of multimedia publications and websites. 

To be sure, National World PLC’s Board of Directors consists of people with considerable experience in news and advertising. Chief Operating Officer Mark Hollinshead is current president of Newsbrands Scotland, formerly the Scottish Newspaper Society. This organization is one of 36 entities listed as stakeholders in the complex Mid-Term Review (MTR) by Ofcom (January 2024) conducted to ascertain whether the BBC is fulfilling its charter duties without unnecessarily stifling market competition.

The verdict is not altogether clear, as a lot depends on whether Ofcom will (or will not) excuse the BBCs excesses. Ofcom’s stated mandate is to make sure that the statist news behemoth sticks to its charter rules, and that assumes those rules are sound and well thought-out. 

Newsquest and National World were listed as MTR stakeholders too, as were Ofcom itself and four of its advisory committees, the Welsh and Scottish governments, and, among other entities, the Northern Ireland Department for Communities.


Newsquest: Deepest Roots

As for Newsquest Media Group, the company, according to its website, has over 250 local news brands and magazines in the UK, while claiming to have 41 million digital users per month and seven million print readers per month. Newquest’s parent company, Gannett Inc., is the largest newspaper company in the U.S. In order to achieve its “trusted local journalism,” Newsquest’s editors are said to have “complete editorial independence and are free to edit as they see fit and do so in the interests of the individual communities they represent.”

Interestingly, Newsquest was formed in 1996 “as a management buy-out of Reed Regional Newspapers with backing from [the] U.S. private equity company, Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts & Co.,” or KKR, whose chairman, Henry Kravis, and his wife, Marie-Josee Kravis, are long-time fixtures of the Bilderberg meetings—Marie being the current head of the American Friends of Bilderberg, which is a New York-registered “charity” that helps raise funds and gives direction for these infamous, highly secretive “meetings” conducted by what’s best described as a transnational planning and networking committee comprised of the top brass from various public and private power sectors.

This includes current and former high-ranking government officials who go “off grid” to reflect, analyze and network—unlawfully, many contend—on how best to maintain and expand the economic, political and technological infrastructure for world governance. Of the three above-named media entities that are most central to the BBC’s LDRS scheme, Newsquest is no mere third leg of the stool. Rather, it has the deepest roots of the three. Therefore, one must go down the proverbial rabbit hole to get a sufficiently clear picture of what it is and who controls it.

Just for starters, if you think Newsquest being owned by Gannett completes the “corporate “genealogy,” you’d be wrong. Gannett itself has a parent: the New Media Investment Group, which Influence Watch online describes as a “New York City-based private equity firm that is the parent company of Gannett Co., Inc., the largest newspaper publisher in the United States.”

Influence Watch adds:

Formed in 2013 to restructure GateHouse Media’s $1.2 billion of debt chapter 11 bankruptcy, New Media Investment Group operated GateHouse Media as the then-largest newspaper publisher in terms of distinct publications. In 2019, New Media Investment Group acquired rival publisher Gannett and merged the company with GateHouse to become the largest newspaper publisher in the United States.

New Media Investment Group oversees the operations and publishing of 260 daily newspapers and 300 weekly publications in 47 states and Guam and administers over 130,000 business advertising accounts with a weekly reach of over 12 million people.

Note that Gannett is the top dog in the U.S. in terms of news publication—yet, and as already noted, its Newsquest affiliate has a strong British presence; thus, we’re looking at a major Atlantic-straddling entity that is among the most influential members of what this UK Column reporter has dubbed the “Mass Media Cartel.” 

To take the matter even further, also note that the New Media Investment Group is not the top of the pyramid. To determine that dubious honor, read the following Reuters financial dispatch: 

New Media is run by Fortress Investment Group, which is owned by Japan's SoftBank Group Corp. 

Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp. has popped up before; it was mentioned in passing by this UK Column reporter during a typical weekly report. This writer mentioned having worked (1989–1996) for the Indiana daily, The South Bend Tribune. Even that modest newspaper has, although such was not always the case, become just another feckless paper whose ultimate ownership can be found in SoftBank’s broad portfolio. 

At this juncture, it’s natural to ask: What and who is Fortress Investment Group LLC and Softbank? 

Well, as for Fortress, it’s:

[. . .] a leading [New York City-based] highly diversified global investment manager with approximately $46.2 billion of assets under management as of Sept. 30, 2023. Founded in 1998, Fortress manages assets on behalf of over 1,900 institutional clients and private investors worldwide across a range of credit and real estate, private equity and permanent capital investment strategies.

One does not detect any clear relation to, or emphasis on, the news business there, much less a heartfelt mission to right the world’s wrongs through courageous journalism. One can only say that media companies, at best, are typical clients among scores of others. And need we mention that Peter L. Brier Jr., the Chairman and Principal of Fortress, is a member of the world government-oriented Council on Foreign Relations who spent 15 years at Goldman Sachs? Or that Drew McKnight, Fortresses’ Co-Chief Executive Officer, also is on the CFR’s roster, while serving on the Board of Advisors for the Center for New American Security (CNAS)?

Quite notably, CNAS’ advisors include retired U.S. State Department official, and accused nation-wrecker of Ukraine in 2014, Victoria Nuland, who formerly led this Washington D.C.-based think tank as its CEO. And it’s worth mentioning that CNAS has received funding from major defense contractors, including Northrup Grumman, Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon. Other CNAS donors include Chevron, Amazon, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, the U.S. State Department itself, Facebook, Google and Microsoft.

Oh yes, and what about Softbank? To be sure, this company has its many tentacles reaching into the endless labyrinth of high finance. But the essential things to point out are that its leader pays homage to the perennial world-consolidating, often distrusted and despised Rothschild family known mainly for its banking dynasty. And Softbank devised a company scheme to promote and adhere to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. 

Softbank is run by a rather obscure Japanese financial magnate, 66-year old Masayoshi Son, who’s been at Softbank’s helm as Chairman and CEO since 1981. CNBC noted the following about his worldview, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the worldview of World Economic Forum poo-bah Klaus Schwab, as derived from his book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution:

Son said he would describe SoftBank as a “capital provider for the information revolution” in the 21st century in the same way that Mayer Amschel Rothschild was a capital provider for the industrial revolution in the 19th century. In the industrial revolution, manpower was replaced by machines, Son said, [while adding] “In the information revolution, AI will be the one replacing machinery.”

This is not to say that Son is some twisted mountebank, on a par with Schwab, methodically plotting world control from Softbank’s ivory tower, as Schwab is accused of doing (with considerable evidence) from his Davos lair; indeed, Son’s CV speaks of an ambitious, intelligent figure who worked hard to get where he’s at. His company’s website makes frequent references to the importance of “human capital,” in the context of hiring the best talent, as well as fostering human “happiness.” Readers can make up their own mind about Son’s observations. 

Meanwhile, the following company statement in our quickly-coming age of AI and the fascinating yet often amoral ramifications of hardwiring it into society, is a bit of a brow-raiser:

Humankind stands on the cusp of the digital Big Bang. Computing performance is increasing dramatically, and we are getting ever closer to an age of super-intelligent machines that will surpass human ability. Our mission is to harness the raw, unlimited power of the Information Revolution and channel it in a direction that makes people happier. This aspiration will continue to drive our organization toward further growth for many years to come.

As for the celebration of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, SoftBank developed a six-plank approach that’s larded with nebulous “globalese” terminology, but it basically says it will “drive innovation” by “uniting wisdom and knowledge” and “demonstrate highly transparent governance and integrity to win further trust of our stakeholders.” What that exactly means in practice is anybody’s guess.

To close, one need only reflect on the picture this article has endeavored to draw to realize that modern legacy media operations are ensconced in a fascist framework of corporate-government collusion of the highest order. Like a broken clock’s twice-a-day accuracy, the LDRS media personnel and companies contained therein may incidentally spit out some worthy journalism at times. Stranger things have happened. But systemically speaking, the “fix” is clearly in; and there is no reason whatsoever to believe that this monstrous news-financial complex, which militantly maintains that “disinformation” is almost purely external to itself, should represent the permanent future of journalism, however immovable and all-powerful it may appear. 

The future should, and really does, belong to those genuine alternative media entities that grow directly from the grassroots and are supported by readers whose views are taken into account. Most urgently, we all must work to shun and deflate the legacy media and its clever machinations to reinvent itself, while instead supporting with renewed vigor those media outlets that are not part of the power structure as the legacy media outlets certainly are. A truly honest, power-detached media can go a long way in freeing humanity from the curse of tyranny. Time is of the essence. 

We can win this information war. In some respects, we already are. 


Image: Jon S on Flickr | licence CC BY 2.0 DEED