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Tokyo’s publishing empire will purchase Europe’s largest business newspaper (and its sister publication The Economist is also up to sale) . Is this ‘business as usual’, or does the pink newspaper matter for Europe?

My view in short: This is not good news for Europe, lose one more media brand to a foreign owner.  Indeed, news is not just any other business. This move could also affect the upcoming EU referendum. Either directly because the FT may not support YES, or indirectly, because part of the public opinion turns more nationalistic, lumping together several ‘foreign’ influences. Europe’s media groups should counter this and act, not waiting for UK  newspapers to lead.

There will be reassuring comments

Of course, ‘this is logical given globalisation’.
And ‘it’s good that Asia, not just China, is climbing up the ranks of the establishment.’

Also, Nikkei is unlikely to interfere much in editorial matters, or to slash journalists. And foreign groups tend to have a more pan-European look at things than continental ones.
Finally, this move is ‘not as bad’ as a  trophy purchase by an oligarch. Or even than a US or German acquisition, trigerring more fears of domination.
But it’s not good news for Europe…

One more European media brand under foreign control cannot be counted as a victory. In the XXth century, media counts more than car brands, an area where the UK is under full foreign ownership.

Apart from the BBC, The Economist and the Guardian, most UK brands of international significance are now foreign-owned, notably by Murdoch’s Newscorp and Russian oligarchs.

There is also the potential impact on the upcoming EU referendum in the UK. The FT  may become less likely to editorialise in favour of YES to the EU? (as it did in the past for the internal market, and at one point even for the euro, in the late 1990’s under Blair, which most people forgot). This could affect views in the City of London, hence in the British economy, and in Great Britain at large.

Not all the UK public shares the City’s liberal views. Just like when the British car industry vanished, and new plants were built for the European market… by Japanese brands already. In political terms,  migration fears, resentment about lost brands, security concerns: all this feeds jingoistic trends, a poor background for continued European integration.
… underlining the EU’s need for action
Media is not just a business. Especially in times of crises and even of societies or countries drifting apart, notably for lack of perspectives.
Europe’s media sector faces major restructuring, passively and pro-actively… I wrote a separate piece about the need for cross-border initiatives, reducing dependence on the anglo-saxon press… like the FT: Journalists and publishers must unite to create a eurozone press.

The Digital Single Market promoted by the EU Commission is not enough, one should speed up preparation of a strategy for Europe’s media sector. So far, the EU institutions were complaining about the lack of coverage, but OK with the nationalities involved: ‘Brits are European after all, right?’ Well, in the case of the FT, are they?

As for the European media: after past over-ambitious attempts, new ways?

Both the main Pearson brands, FT and The Economist, have attempted European developments… and failed. The new Asian tropism of the FT is unlikely to encourage them to try again: Of 20 media groups to ‘go European’: most failed, not all.

It used to be that three of the EU Brussels relevant brands (alongside EurActiv and few others) were UK-owned: there is only one left, just. Indeed 1) the FT will now report to Tokyo, 2) The Economist, 50% owned by Pearson, reduced its interest in the EU in selling European Voice 3) the latter, EV, was destroyed by Politico immediately after its purchase (nearly all the EV journalists are gone, or sidelined, and the UK brand equity is lost).

As for The Economist, it is influential for comments more than for news, but matters also. What can Pearson do with the half it controls? I hope the other half, a City establishment trust caring about independence and open markets, reviews options while keeping Europe in mind.

Reacting to my OpEd on a eurozone press, Philip Geddes, a former FT Editor, thinks that Europe needs clearer policies but no media champions: A European media champion? | EurActiv.
I believe we do need champions, and also cross-border cooperation, not only takeovers.  The BBC has its own limits, and scaled back its European engagement, for example cancelling the BBC 648 radio and the main BBC TV programme on the EU.  The Guardian has European relevance, but seems more interested in the US, India and Australia. I hope this FT purchase is not a precursor to the UK leaving altogether ‘for the high seas’.

Apart from a few agencies, who is left to cover Europe across borders and from a European viewpoint? Notably national media, with strong cultural and language boundaries, and some smaller specialised publications on the continent.

Again, in and beyond the media sector, it’s time to act together, not only shrink slowly in each single country. We need cross-border media in Europe, in line with actual policies and politics of the European Union. There is a role for a few UK media. And now, increasingly, also for some continental groupings to emerge.

@LeclercqEU

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