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Media Ownership and Leveson

May 3, 2015 10:40 AM

Thank you for this email on the important subject of keeping the ​media both free and accountable.

​​​I want to see a free, plural and diverse media in the UK. To achieve this, we need to reform the existing arrangements for safeguarding the plurality of the media​​, ​​but the current rules don't go far enough.​ In my view, should be done broadly in line with the recommendations of the House of Lords Communications Select Committee in 2014. Part of the problem comes from how the current framework was created. In 2003, the Labour Government passed the Communications Act, which dealt with the issue of media ownership. Their initial plan was to have no plurality test at all, leaving the media open to corporate monopoly. It was the work of the Liberal Democrats that led to the introduction of the plurality test that prevented the BSkyB takeover in 2012.​

Liberal Democrats want Ofcom to be given the lead responsibility for this issue. They should also be able to conduct reviews periodically, in addition to those triggered by proposed mergers and acquisitions, and set down conditions to prevent the reach of any media company damaging the public interest.

We also need to do more to ensure that there is a vibrant local and hyper-local media to help inform citizens about their local area and their local politics. We want to use the current subsidies for local TV, which have failed to contribute significantly to cultural life, to extend Ofcom's community radio grant support to online hyper-locals and allow non-profit local media outlets to obtain charitable status where the public interest is being served.

Liberal Democrats have a strong track record when it comes to standing up for media plurality. We have consistently called for a proper framework to promote a diverse and plural media, through conference motions in 2002 and 2011. Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg said in 2011 that, "It is as important as ever to ensure [traditional media] is not concentrated in a small number of hands."​

Liberal Democrats have never been in the media's pocket. Where other parties pandered to media moguls, we have consistently been the only party to raise concerns about media accountability and ownership. In 2010, we were the first party to call for a judicial inquiry into phone-hacking - which led to the Leveson inquiry - and have been calling for a stronger Press Complaints Commission (PCC) since 2003.

​​We supported the Leveson inquiry and have worked in Parliament to ensure that the recommendations for proper light touch regulation of the media are being carried through. I support the Royal Charter on Press Regulation, which will secure regulation of the press that, crucially, is independent of both government and 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 judgement of the independent 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. It should draw on a range of options, including on 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.

We also want to get to the full truth about corrupt practices in parts of the police and the press by ensuring that the Daniel Morgan Panel Inquiry is completed quickly and that part two of the Leveson Inquiry starts as soon as the criminal prosecutions in the hacking scandal are completed.

The manifesto​ ​addresses this issue​ in​:-

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.

I hope answers your question.