Most of the time, reporting on business is quite straightforward. A business makes a profit, creates jobs, does well. This a good story. If a business loses money, closes down, lays off staff, then it’s not so good. None of this suggests that running a business is easy, or dealing with customers, banks, suppliers or staff is straightforward. It isn’t. But when a decision goes against a company there’s usually a reason or an explanation; even applying for planning permission is transparent, if slow.
But there are two instances, currently at the forefront of all of our concerns, where business logic is trumped entirely. One is anything at all to do with the business of football, where the heart so often rules the head; the second is where the government, or one of its regulators, issues a licence for anything, be it a supercasino, or a licence to operate a radio franchise.
Dealing with the last one first, as we are defying common sense, the media regulator Ofcom has issued a licence to Guardian Media Group (GMG) to run a new FM radio licence in Manchester, RockTalk. That will be in addition to GMG’s ownership of Smooth FM, Century FM, the Manchester Evening News, several weekly newspapers, a fledgling TV station, sponsorship of the largest concert venue in the north and a national newspaper, The Guardian, which I won’t assume many of you are terribly familiar with.
Take my word for it, over the years several million acres of forest have been felled in order to fill pages of that paper with stories regarding the evil empire of Rupert Murdoch and the pernicious influence of the Daily Mail. Imagine, if you will, the howls of outrage that would be heard across Hampstead Heath and around the dinner tables of Highgate if Associated Newspapers, publisher of the London Evening Standard, were able to own such a similarly large slice of London’s media.
I have yet to hear Mr Angry of Hyde, Heywood or Hazel Grove on this subject, because there’s no-one stoking the fires of outrage and they probably don’t care. Yet what we have here in Manchester is a rapidly expanding media monopoly, offering advertisers and consumers little choice.
It is the other logic-defining sector that really has got them talking. Assuming the GMG isn’t also tabling a bid for Manchester City, the debt-ridden football club could soon follow two other bigger regional red teams into American ownership, and also see a big shiny casino opening up next door. Will that regenerate East Manchester? Maybe. Will hoards of people flock to this bright new leisure temple? No, they won’t. And perhaps, out of this other farcical bidding process, Blackpool can move on and forget this folly once and for all.
(Lead article, North West Business Insider, March 2007).