At this time every year, The Guardian publishes its Media 100 – a list of the most powerful people in the UK sector. At this time every year, our media executive search team spends 20 minutes in the office dissecting it, and some time texting those people we know with jokey messages about their brilliance or under-representation. And at this time every year, I write nothing about it.
There’s no point getting hot under the collar about the often seemingly arbitrary names that start to come in after place 20 on the list. The fact that there are 47 new entries on this year’s list illustrates the point: the media market is moving fast, of course; but not so fast that nearly half of last year’s entries should be dropped, nor so that the same number have achieved so much greater influence.
Then someone in the office said “Well, you can’t argue with the top 10.” Well, I can. Particularly when the judges had relegated Rupert Murdoch to 11th place, behind, in order:
While some of these names may not be of the household variety – few outside the media circle would know Costolo, Shields, Ive, or Entwistle (yet) by name – their respective institutions are undoubtedly powerful. Twitter is quoted in every news report; Facebook, despite a poor flotation, is an amazing cultural and commercial success; Ive’s designs for Apple have been a phenomenon; and the BBC is, of course, ubiquitous throughout the UK.
Of the others, Page has a real claim to the top spot: his business has redefined the internet experience and will be pre-eminent for at least a decade to come. Patten – well, see Entwistle above. Dacre has maintained an incredibly successful newspaper and has stumbled into a phenomenally successful website. Sorrell is media’s own “media voice”, respected for his business nous and ability to present unchallenged hard-headed economic judgement in a way that only George Soros or Warren Buffett among business leaders are allowed to do. Simon Cowell is Simon Cowell. But Leveson is a judge who has not made any judgement, and whose influence it is yet too early to tell.
Murdoch, though, still runs a formidable media empire in the UK. The Sun, The Sunday Times, The Times and BSkyB, between them, reach out to the majority of adults in the UK. News Group titles and their online representations have between them a readership of over 20m people; Sky claims that it has over 10m TV customers. This, of course, does not count Murdoch’s ownership of HarperCollins, Dow Jones (including the Walls Street Journal) and other media properties. And while his interference in editorial issues on a day-to-day basis is greatly exaggerated by his enemies, there is no doubt that his views on key issues are known, and that senior people pay in each organisation pay heed to them.
Of the Media 100, it would be difficult to argue that anyone has a greater influence on the UK media scene than Rupert Murdoch. Leveson himself is only there because of the actions of a (now closed) Murdoch paper. So too Tom Watson, at 36, and the Guardian’s own Alan Rusbridger, whose ranking was boosted by his paper’s enquiry into phone hacking. More directly, five other key people in the top 50 owe their living to Murdoch. In the last year, he has closed the oldest Sunday newspaper in the UK and opened a new channel to house the rights to Formula 1. He has dominated all the discussions around Leveson: and just when you thought he might be cowed, his papers published the pictures of Prince Harry’s infamous pool party. Whether he stays or goes, there is no doubt that this is a man that dominates the scene.
If I had to make a decision, I would happily place Rupert Murdoch as currently the most powerful player in the UK media scene – or, at worst, second behind Larry Page. Other than Murdoch, nobody else is forcing legislators to review their stance, and media consumers to examine their conscience, while remaining a force that politicians still dread to cross (whatever their bluster). Whether for good or bad, Rupert Murdoch remains very powerful. Whatever the judges of the Media 100 may hope.