Friday, 24 September 2010

Sky's the limit: The rise and rise of Murdoch's monopoly

The decision to move October’s football match between Leeds and Cardiff from a Saturday afternoon to a Monday evening will have passed without as much as an arched eyebrow for most people. It is the reason for this switch, however, which should cause alarm; symptomatic as it is of the monopoly enveloping British media.

Since the inception of the Premier League in 1992 (or the Premiership, as it was then marketed), football in Britain has been governed not by the Football Association, but by Rupert Murdoch’s (above) multi-million pound television enterprise, Sky.

Having paid astronomical amounts to screen Premier League matches, Sky have since wrestled control of fixture lists, moving matches at such frequency that, last season, Manchester United played just three home league matches at the conventional kick-off time of 3pm on a Saturday.

And while switching a Championship fixture may not be Sky’s most outlandish statement of intent, even this relatively restrained flexing of the corporation’s muscles is indicative of its growing power.

Worryingly for the rest of the British media landscape, though, there is little to suggest that the Sky juggernaut faces any opposition as it hurtles towards absolute dominance.

The government is far from bothered by the swelling of Murdoch’s empire; in fact, the mogul’s expansion suits it.

Jeremy Hunt, the Minister for Culture, Media and Sport, and the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, are just two prominent Conservatives to have rounded on the BBC recently, arguing that the corporation is too powerful.

These two and their party, however, are more than happy to stand aside as Murdoch plans to become the outright majority shareholder of BSkyB, whose chairman James Murdoch (yes, the son of) is also an outspoken and vitriolic critic of the BBC.

Sky recorded revenues of over £6bn last year, while the BBC this week saw the licence fee frozen – at Hunt’s behest – at £145.50, adding budgetary injury to the incessant insults the corporation has endured from its competition.

The government’s brazen double standards are hardly surprising. David Cameron’s cabinet, after all, is deeply affiliated to Murdoch’s modus operandi, News Corporation.

Through News International, News Corporation owns nearly 40 percent of British newspapers, and the former editor of its prized publication, The News of the World, happens to be Andy Coulson (above), who is now Cameron’s Director of Communications.

There is an unhealthily close relationship between the current government and the commercial monopoly which is about to strengthen yet further its grip on the British media.

But rather than sounding the alarm bells, the UK is currently heading towards a crisis akin to that seen in Italy recently, where the Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is also an entrepreneur with a Murdoch-esque stranglehold on the country’s media.

There could be one, lonely voice in government willing to stem the tide. Business Secretary Vince Cable spoke at the Liberal Democrats conference about how "Capitalism takes no prisoners and kills competition where it can,” in what may or may not have been a thinly veiled challenge to Murdoch’s latest move.

There is scant support, however, from Downing Street for Cable’s views, as the lukewarm reaction from colleagues to his controversial speech proved. It could be some time until Cable’s warnings are heeded.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Serbian see-saws and Dutch pretentions: architecture in Venice

You'd think the opening salvo "Architects, we who change the world" was a tongue-in-cheek introduction. Not at Venice’s La Biennale, though: a festival of contemporary art and architecture as rich in booming pomposity as it is inspiration and creativity.

The Dutch installation, ‘Where Architecture Meets Ideas’, was the most impressive show of self-aggrandisement. A call for architecture which “comes up with solutions for the major issues of our time” was one of its more memorable soundbites – perhaps a little optimistic for what is essentially a blue-foam cityscape (above).

The ‘ideas web’ (below) was similarly, er, ambitious – the sort of diagram that would not be out of place on the office walls of SugarApe magazine from an episode of Nathan Barley. It was, like, totally profound and shit.

Pretentiousness is by no means, however, an exclusively off-putting quality of this exhibition. Quite to the contrary, there was much to enjoy about indulging in one’s own wafty self-importance.

The sight of Belgium’s snappily-titled ‘Polyester and Fibreglass Seats from a Metro Station' was as visually arresting as the name suggests. Not exceedingly so. Yet it instilled in me a sense of double reality; simultaneously indulging in the gallery’s warmth yet also arrested by the chill of bus and train stations where I had spent countless, desolate hours of my life.

Having guffawed at the lofty ambitions of the Dutch installation, I now found myself thinking twice about my own decadent reflections. There I was pontificating about Jean Baudrillard and ideas of hyper-realities, the simulacrum – from the sight of a shabby seat from a train station. Pretentious? Me?

La Biennale is a feast of art and architecture, ranging from the self-satisfied Australian 3D vision of the future (complete with ‘edgy’ title, ‘Now and When’), to the enchanting ‘hylozoic’ (the belief that all matter is alive) fusion of technology and nature from Canada, manifest in thousands of digitally-fabricated components glittering and breathing like plants in a darkened room (below).

Few installations, however, were as much fun as Serbia’s, which, either through a distinct lack of ideas or an admirable commitment to childish enjoyment, turned out to be a room packed with see-saws. And not even the architects at La Biennale could muster something pretentious to say about a see-saw.