With the publication of the SNP election manifesto on Monday we now know where the main parties stand on their policies on the future of the media. Labour’s election manifesto commitments the party to protect ‘the principle of media plurality’ and ‘preventing the concentration of media power in too few hands’. It’s the best commitment from Labour for decades and is likely to have enraged Rupert Murdoch who in February berated journalists on his tabloid papers for not doing enough to stop Labour winning the election and warned them that the future of the company depended on stopping Ed Miliband entering No 10 (Independent 20 April 2015). The party also takes the Leveson Inquiry as the benchmark for how to repair the damage done by the phone hacking scandal and pledges to stand by the victims.
The Green Party manifesto commits to enforcing a 20% maximum share in individual media markets as well as tighter rules on cross-media ownership.
Plaid Cymru’s election manifesto stresses the importance of ‘a plurality of opinions and information sources’ and highlights how concentration threatens to undermine coverage of Welsh politics and culture.
8.2 Freedom of speech and the free press
As the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris showed, freedom of expression cannot be taken for granted. In an open society there can be no right ‘not to be offended’, which is why Liberal Democrats in government have strengthened the law to make it harder for prosecutions to be brought for using ‘insulting words’, and have led the way in protecting journalists’ sources under the 2000 Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA). Yet censorship and self-censorship are still rife, and the threat of prosecution can have a chilling effect on the willingness of people to speak out against injustice and corruption. To change this and promote investigative journalism, we will:
- Introduce statutory public interest defences for exceptional cases where journalists may need to break the law (such as RIPA, the 2010 Bribery Act, and the 1998 Computer Misuse Act) to expose corruption or other criminal acts.
- Ensure judicial authorisation is required for the acquisition of communications data which might reveal journalists’ sources or other privileged communications, for any of the purposes allowed under RIPA; and allow journalists the opportunity to address the court before authorisation is granted, where this would not jeopardise the investigation.
- Undertake a post-legislative review of the 2013 Defamation Act, which Liberal Democrats drove through Parliament, to ensure the new provisions are reducing the chill of libel threats.
- Introduce, after consultation on the detail, the changes to the 1998 Data Protection Act recommended by Lord Justice Leveson to provide a fairer balance between personal privacy and the requirements of journalism, ensuring that the position of investigative journalists is safeguarded.
To promote the independence of the media from political influence we will remove Ministers from any role in appointments to the BBC Trust or the Board of Ofcom.
To guarantee press freedom, we will pass a British ‘First Amendment’ law, to require the authorities and the courts to have regard to the importance of a free media in a democratic society.
To nurture public interest journalism and protect the public from press abuse, we are committed to a system of accountability that is totally independent of both government and the newspaper industry, as set out in the Royal Charter on Press Regulation.
We share the hope of Lord Justice Leveson that the incentives for the press to sign up to genuinely independent self-regulation will succeed. But if, in the judgment of the Press Recognition Panel, after 12 months of operation, there is significant non-cooperation by newspaper publishers, then – as Leveson himself concluded – Parliament will need to act, drawing on a range of options including the legislative steps necessary to ensure that independent self regulation is delivered. Where possible, we would seek to do this on the same cross-party basis that achieved the construction of the Leveson scheme by the Royal Charter.
10.4 Protecting the space for democratic debate
We recognise the importance of a plural and diverse media, free from state influence or from monopolistic or dominant market control, in guaranteeing a vibrant national conversation. We will therefore reform the existing arrangements for safeguarding plurality in the media broadly in line with the recommendations of the 2014 Lords Communications Select Committee report. We will:
Give lead responsibility to Ofcom and enable it to conduct reviews periodically, as well as when triggered by proposed mergers and acquisitions, and enable Ofcom to set down conditions to prevent the reach of any media company damaging the public interest.
- Ensure any conditions or requirements that Ofcom lays down following a plurality review can only be vetoed or interfered with by a Minister after a vote of both Houses of Parliament.
- Use a variety of measures to ensure that there is a vibrant local and ‘hyperlocal’ media to help inform citizens about their local area and their local politics, including:
- Redirecting the current subsidies for ‘local TV’, which have failed to contribute significantly to cultural life.
- Extending Ofcom’s community radio grant support to online hyperlocals, and allowing non-profit local media outlets to obtain charitable status where the public interest is being served.
The free flow of information and of different points of view is crucial for open debate and countering concentrations of unaccountable power. That is why the concentration of media power in too few hands is damaging to our democracy. No one media owner should be able to exert undue influence on public opinion and policy makers. No media company should have so much power that those who run it believe themselves above the rule of law.
Yet the current system for protecting against these threats is inadequate. Labour will take steps to protect the principle of media plurality, so that no media outlet can get too big, including updating our rules for the 21st century media environment.
We remain strongly committed to the implementation of the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry. We expect the industry to establish a mechanism for independent self-regulation, which delivers proper redress for individuals, as set out in the Royal Charter, and agreed by all parties in Parliament. We made a promise to victims of the phone hacking scandal. We stand by that promise and will keep it.
Our system of public service broadcasting is one of Britain’s great strengths. The BBC makes a vital contribution to the richness of our cultural life, and we will ensure that it continues to do so while delivering value for money. We will also commit to keeping Channel 4 in public ownership, so it continues to produce vital public content.
Cutting the Cost of Westminster
Abolishing government departments when their essential powers and functions can be merged into other departments. Such departments will include the Department for Energy and Climate Change, the Department for International Development, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
We will support our media
A free media is the bedrock of an open society. We will deliver a comprehensive review of the BBC Royal Charter, ensuring it delivers value for money for the licence fee payer, while maintaining a world class service and supporting our creative industries. That is why we froze the BBC licence fee and will keep it frozen, pending Charter renewal. And we will continue to ‘topslice’ the licence fee for digital infrastructure to support superfast broadband across the country.
We will defend press freedom
We will continue to defend hard-won liberties and the operation of a free press. But alongside the media’s rights comes a clear responsibility, which is why we set up the public, judge-led Leveson Inquiry in response to the phone-hacking scandal, created a new watchdog by Royal Charter and legislated to toughen media libel laws.
Because the work of the free press is so important we will offer explicit protection for the role of journalists via the British Bill of Rights and we will ban the police from accessing journalists’ phone records to identify whistle-blowers and other sources without prior judicial approval. Local newspapers are an important source of information for local communities and a vital part of a healthy democracy. To support them as they adapt to new technology and changing circumstances, we will consult on the introduction of a business rates relief for local newspapers in England.
Information and digital rights
We live in the information age and we know that information is power. But how should information be controlled? What information should be available, and to whom?
The Green Party supports a world of open, freely flowing information. We don’t want disproportionate or unaccountable surveillance or censorship. We want a transparent state, but we want control over the data that our digital lives create. We need copyright laws that reward creators but that are consistent with digital technologies. Above all we want democratic political control of this technology. We would consider combining elements of the policies below into a comprehensive Digital Bill of Rights. We would:
- Oppose any case for secret unaccountable mass surveillance of the type exposed by Edward Snowden. We do accept that government law enforcement agencies may occasionally need to intercept communications in specific circumstances. Such specific surveillance should be proportionate, necessary, effective and within the rule of law, with independent judicial approval and genuine parliamentary oversight.
- Replace the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which has failed
– to regulate the deployment of undercover police;
– to support the confidentiality of journalistic sources;
– to support legal confidentiality; and
– to enshrine an open and effective right of redress.
- Support and protect Internet freedom.
- Follow human rights judgments limiting surveillance and data retention in full.
- Support the EU’s proposals to strengthen data protection laws against opposition from large US data-driven companies.
- Limit the censoring or takedown of content or activity to exceptional circumstances, clearly set out within a comprehensive legal
- Make copyright shorter in length, fair and flexible, and prevent patents applying to software.
- Introduce a more satisfactory law on so-called malicious comments made on social media than the blanket and crude section
127 of the Communications Act 2003.
- Oppose the privatisation of data held by the government that should be open to all, such as the Postcode Address File, or by companies providing public services, such as data on the progress of buses that can be used by Smartphone apps to predict waiting times.
- Oppose the sale of personal data, such as health or tax records, for commercial or other ends.
- Use government purchasing power to support open standards in information technology.
Media, sports and the arts
How politics is reported is vital for our democracy – active citizenship has to be informed citizenship. Public support for the arts is part of a civilised society. We would:
- Tighten the rules on cross-media ownership and ensure that no individual or company owns more than 20% of a media market.
- Support the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics and for the cross-party Royal Charter. But if this is not supported by all the major newspapers we will support legislation to implement the Leveson system of independent press selfregulation.
- Maintain the BBC as the primary public service broadcaster, free of government interference, with funding guaranteed in real terms in statute to prevent government interference.
- Increase government arts funding by £500 million a year to restore the cuts made since 2010 and reinstate proper levels of funding for local authorities, helping to keep local museums, theatres, libraries and art galleries open.
- Reduce VAT to 5% for live performances.
- Work to support fair pay productions in the arts.
- Support initiatives to make the arts and sports accessible to all.
- Set targets for participation in sports by women, ethnic minorities and disabled people in particular.
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- Make sure all children get at least a half-day equivalent of sports in school and encourage both the use of schools sports facilities by the community and participation in regional and national sporting events by our young people.
- Ensure that all have digital access and give BT and other public telecommunications operators an obligation to provide affordable high-speed broadband-capable infrastructure to every household and small business. This in particular will encourage videoconferencing, helping to reduce both business and family travel.
- Strengthen controls on advertising directed at children.
- Value the contribution made by civil society organisations both here and abroad. In particular, we would repeal the Lobbying Act 2014 (see the ‘Green MP opposes the Lobbying Bill’ box below).
- Support state funding of political parties.
- Give fair representation to political parties in televised debates.
We will devolve broadcasting to Wales and implement recommendations on broadcasting made by Plaid Cymru to the Silk Commission. These include establishing a BBC Trust for Wales as part of a more federal BBC within the UK. Trustees would be appointed by the Welsh Government and the appointment process including public hearings held by the National Assembly for Wales.
Responsibility for S4C, the world’s only Welsh language channel, would transfer to the National Assembly for Wales, as would the funding for the channel that is currently with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. We will ensure that S4C is adequately funded and that the channel maintains editorial independence. Again, the Welsh Government should appoint the board members of the S4C Authority following public hearings.
We support establishing a new Welsh language multimedia service to operate online, on radio and other platforms, in order to reflect the needs of Welsh language audiences and improve current affairs coverage in Wales.
Ofcom’s office in Wales should have greater powers, including the authority to take licensing decisions. The members of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Wales should be appointed by the Welsh Government. This would be best achieved by the federalisation of the work of Ofcom in a UK context.
We will give local newspapers the status of ‘community assets’ so that owners could not close them without communities having the opportunity to keep their paper. It is important for there to be a plurality of opinions and information sources. We will oppose any reduction in Welsh produced news and non-news content in our media.
Protecting personal data
We do not support Tory plans for the reintroduction of the so-called ‘snoopers’ charter’, which would see all online activity of every person in the UK stored for a year. Instead, we need a proportionate response to extremism. That is why we will support targeted, and properly overseen, measures to identify suspected extremists and, if necessary, examine their online activity and communications.
A flourishing media environment and creative sector
We believe that responsibility for broadcasting in Scotland should transfer from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament and we will support moves to more devolved arrangements for the BBC with greater powers and funding for the different national and regional broadcasting areas, such as BBC Scotland.
We believe that the licence fee should be retained with any replacement system, which should be based primarily on the ability to pay, in place by the end of the next BBC Charter period.
BBC Scotland should receive a fairer share of BBC income, reflecting more accurately the licence fee revenue raised here in Scotland. This would provide a boost of over £100 million, which we believe will provide important new opportunities for production companies and the creative sector in Scotland.
The Scottish Government and Parliament should have a substantial role at all stages in the review of the BBC Charter and we will work to ensure that any new governance arrangements for the BBC better reflect Scotland’s interests.
It should also be for the Scottish Government to decide which sporting events in Scotland should be included in the list of those that are free to view in Scotland.
Regulation of print media is already devolved. The Scottish Parliament chose, on a cross party basis, to support the UK Government’s actions to implement Leveson. We will consider carefully the results of the first year review and work with other parties, in Scotland and at Westminster, to ensure effective regulation of the media on a non-political basis.