Chief Executive Matt Tee on what the main party manifestos say about press regulation.
There is less than a week to go until Britain votes for its next Government. The polls are getting closer and YouGov’s election model suggests we might get a hung Parliament. So what do the main parties have in their manifestos in the area of press and media?
There is a clear split in the parties on press regulation and the post-Leveson agenda. Labour and the Liberal Democrats both pledge to enact Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 (the section that means that newspapers may have to pay the court costs of someone who sues them, even if they win) and to go ahead with the second part of the Leveson inquiry, while the Conservatives take the opposite position.
Regulation, Leveson and Section 40
Labour say: “Victims of phone hacking have been let down by a Conservative government that promised them justice, but failed to follow through. We will implement the recommendations of part one of the Leveson Inquiry and commence part two which will look into the corporate governance failures that allowed the hacking scandal to occur.”
The Liberal Democrats: “In light of the press’s failure to engage in effective self-regulation, [we will] seek to ensure delivery of independent self-regulation, and commence part two of the Leveson inquiry as soon as practicable.“
The Conservatives: “Given the comprehensive nature of the first stage of the Leveson Inquiry and given the lengthy investigations by the police and Crown Prosecution Service into alleged wrongdoing, we will not proceed with the second stage of the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. We will repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2014, which, if enacted, would force media organisations to become members of a flawed regulatory system or risk having to pay the legal costs of both sides in libel and privacy cases, even if they win.”
The Scottish National Party restrict themselves to saying: “We remain committed to a vibrant, free press and we will work with other parties, in Scotland and at Westminster, to ensure it is supported.”
Creative content and digital media
Several of the parties also address the issue of digital platforms benefiting from content developed by others like local newspapers.
The Conservatives say: “At a time when the internet is changing the way people obtain their news, we also need to take steps to protect the reliability and objectivity of information that is essential to our democracy and a free and independent press. We will ensure content creators are appropriately rewarded for the content they make available online. We will be consistent in our approach to regulation of online and offline media.”
Labour say: “We recognise the serious concern about the ‘value gap’ between producers of creative content and the digital services that profit from its use, and we will work with all sides to review the way that innovators and artists are rewarded for their work in the digital age.”
Media ownership, plurality and the importance of local news
The viability of the local press and media ownership also feature in several of the manifestos.
The Liberal Democrats are most concerned about media plurality, saying they will: “Order Ofcom to launch an immediate full assessment of media plurality in the UK, including a review of the ‘fit and proper persons test’ and whether the communications regulator, and the Competition and Markets Authority, have appropriate powers to deal with concentrations of power in the digital economy.”
While Labour say that: “Local newspapers and broadcasting in Britain are an important part of our democracy and culture. We are concerned about closures of local media outlets and the reductions in number of local journalists. Labour will hold a national review local media and into the ownership of national media to ensure plurality. To protect democracy and media freedom, we will take steps to ensure that Ofcom is better able to safeguard a healthy plurality of media ownership and to put in place clearer rules on who is fit and proper to own or run TV and radio stations.”
While these details of the parties’ plans may be meat and drink to me as a press regulator, I don’t expect these to be the policies that get voters streaming down to the polling stations – but any which way, the election is sure to have an impact on IPSO’s future work – so I’ll be watching with interest.