The stage is set. Labour should now commit to media ownership reform

15th October, 2013 2:52 pm

With a Royal Charter on Press Regulation hurtling ever closer, it is wise to note the caveats from Ed Miliband’s conflict with The Daily Mail. We mustn’t abuse events like these to cut back on press freedom. In one of the first interviews he gave on the issue, Miliband declared that, “this is not about regulation, it’s about right and wrong”. We should applaud him for not falling into Paul Dacre’s cynical trap, which he clumsily tried to spring as he blustered about the “chilling effects” of Miliband’s right to reply.

However, letting yet another case of press malpractice slide as a one-off would be a foolish mistake. There is an underlying rot to the British press, not caused by malign editors or rogue journalists, but by hugely unbalanced media ownership. With 70% of all British media outlets owned by just seven companies, it is easy to see how a culture of smears, accusations and delusions of invincibility has grown in a climate of such impunity.

We should all stand robustly for a free press, and papers should always resist any pressure that tries to tell them what to say. Yet, conflating these principles with the ruthless nature of corporate competition has allowed a horridly unequal system to ossify. Instead of holding truth to power or reporting in the public interest, Britain’s media is dominated by backroom deals, commercial influence, and twisted ideology.

In the past, Labour has made promising steps towards shifting the focus from dreaded regulation of the press to ownership reform. Harriet Harman has always made clear her intentions to make ownership reform Labour’s next big media policy, and our Shadow DCMS team, along with numerous campaign groups, have argued for caps on market share. No company would be allowed to control more than, let’s say, 30% of newspapers or commercial broadcasters. Such measures would give greater opportunities for locally owned and independent media to provide for wider audiences where the tycoons have failed.

Sadly, this issue is often shoved away from the policy spotlight and left to gather dust, when it can and should be seen as a major component of Labour’s One Nation message. Our commitment to breaking apart the big energy firms will bring fair competition back into how people heat and light their homes. Similarly, splitting casino banking from its retail counterpart will protect the savings of millions from high-risk investment operations. Reining in the media empires and fostering a more plural press is vital if Labour is going to deliver a democracy that works for everyone.

We’re used to hearing from press barons and their loyal editors that they alone (professional journalists are rarely credited) are the champions of press freedom. But there cannot be a free press while so much of our media is held in so few hands.

Whether the curtains close on a Royal Charter or not, Labour shouldn’t let the audience leave so soon. Give ownership reform an act of its own, and tackle the problems in our press without sacrificing hard won liberties.

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  • itdoesntaddup

    Are you going to recommend that the dominant media player be split up?

    That is of course the BBC, which accounts for some 70% of all news consumption.

    • Tom Chivers

      The BBC is owned by the public, and not for profit. For all its failings it remains accountable and responsive to complaint.

    • JoeDM

      And about time too !!!!

    • Steve Stubbs

      Agreed. Whether or not you accept that the BBC is biased, it has too large a share of the news output.

      And of course the small cabal within the BBC that sets current affairs and news policy directly controls editorial policy and output (see the Saville case for a good example of that in action) so we have a small unelected unaccountable group controlling some 70% of news.

      Got to be broken up and slimmed down, and the TV tax removed. Flat rate tax falling more heavily on the less well off – don’t we oppose such things?

    • Chilbaldi

      Exactly. Which is why limits on market coverage are an unworkable idea. You can’t justify the BBC if you down that road, and I’d quite like to keep the BBC as it is.

  • Holly

    Why not supermarket ownership reform, or better still root & branch clean up our police ‘reform’?
    Just who do you think this bloke is, and just how much power do you reckon he should have, and over who?

    Electing Miliband’s ‘One dictating to the nation’ party gets more dangerous by the second.
    The press have never been perfect, but by god it got a whole lot sleazier under Labour, along with that other ‘trusted to tell us the truth’ body..the police.
    When we can no longer trust the police, or their reps, to tell the truth,because they deliberately go out and falsify stuff, and in the process successfully bring down an elected member of Parliament.
    We have BIGGER worries than who owns a daily paper.
    Don’t know about you but I find it most disturbing on several levels..
    Was this political, and if so how/and who allowed the police to think they are above the law? They are meant to be neutral.
    Why are we in a situation where police and their reps can falsify stuff?
    Behaviour like this is happening on a regular basis and puts in jeopardy our entire legal system.

    You see the nub is, how many people believed Mitchell?

    • JoeDM

      I would suggest that Damian McBride should be Police and Crime Commissioner but the Met don’t really need anyone so dodgy, they seem to have enough of their own !!!

      It just goes to show how corrupt our public institutions became under the last Labour government.

      • reformist lickspittle

        Yup, the police never fitted anybody up prior to 1997 😉

        Mindless partisan braying.

        • Holly

          Exactly!
          So when will all those who are hacked off, fracked off, or whatever start demonstrating for the officers responsible for lying/falsifying statements or events to be sacked!?

          • JoeDM

            The really outrageous side of this was that it was that the police carried out this crime as a part of a political campaign against police cost rationalisation and no action has been taken !!!

          • Holly

            So what was Hillsborough about?
            I think that when the police need to cover THEIR backsides they have no qualms about falsifying statements or events.
            Now that IS OUTRAGEOUS!
            How many times has this kind of thing happened over the last twenty years or so?
            I have absolutely no faith in the police, and even less in the top brass.

      • JGibbon

        Yes, because the Hillsborough cover-up occurred after 1997.
        Same with the Stephen Lawrence case, or undercover officers having children with members of the organisations they were infiltrating.
        The corruption has been there since long before Tony Blair.

        • Holly

          So what did Labour do about it during their time in government?

          This is not about which political track we are on, it is about police officers blatantly lying, and falsifying statements of events.
          It is about the police having the ‘will’ to fabricate events and bring down an elected member of Parliament…And the most scariest part about it is…no one seems to be able to do anything to get rid of the officers who did this.
          It absolutely stinks whatever side of politics we are on.. Because if the police think nothing of the laws they are there to uphold, WTF does that leave our justice system?

        • JoeDM

          Those were not direct attempts to discredit an elected politician and minister in the Government for political gain. This clearly was.

    • JGibbon

      The sleaziness and cover-ups pre-date Tony Blair’s election, or should we forget this?

      • Holly

        And it appears, on a daily basis, that it got a whole lot worse and MORE widespread under Labour.
        Corrupt police don’t give a fig which political party you support, if THEY need to ‘cover THEIR backsides’.
        This IS NOT sleaze. It IS police corruption.

        • reformist lickspittle

          It “appears” that way if you rely on the right wing media for your “facts”, yes. It also “appears” to be no better under this lot – I know this without needing any press baron to tell me so 😉

          • Holly

            Who mentioned the right wing media, apart from me expecting every branch of media outlets to inform the public properly, I never mentioned ANY media, left or right.
            What we are getting is May & Cameron didn’t take Mitchell’s side.
            That IS NOT the story!
            And seeing as you prefer to play politics…
            I find it odd you gloat that after THREE years of a Coalition government, the police are even more corrupt after THIRTEEN years of a Labour government.

          • Danny

            Victims of a tragedy vilified with lies perpetuated by the police and exaggerated by the Sun.

            And you use the Andrew Mitchell story, a career ruined by one, maybe two, dishonest policeman, to claim that things got worse under Labour? I do not mean to be rude, but I am genuinely stunned by your stupidity.

            You do talk some twoddle on here but this one takes the biscuit. It is utterly clear now that you look at things from a completely warped and unrealistic perspective and this badly effects your ability to arrive at a sensible conclusion. You are bordering on parody.

            For your sake, stop contributing to this particular debate.

          • Holly

            Who buys the Sun FFS.
            I stopped reading that in my teens, back in the 1970’s when they did a critical piece on Bob Dylan.
            And I stopped buying newspapers years ago.

            One or two dishonest policemen? Plus the ‘eye witness’, and the reps.
            The Hillsborough notes were taken by many, but altered by…erm…ONE, MAYBE TWO!

            Maybe you think my look on things is ‘completely warped and unrealistic, but the Coalition has only been in office for three years, and now the corruption and cover-up’s does not stop at just the police, three years after, a Labour government of thirteen years, got booted out.

            So who do YOU reckon has had the biggest influence/time to allow a culture of backside covering in the police,(and other public bodies) to grow?
            You may think me cuckoo, but I expect, and demand the law enforcers to uphold the laws of this land.
            I am ‘stunned’ that you say, “you do not mean to be rude”, when clearly you did.

            But I am most insulted that you think I’d read the Sun.

          • Danny

            I’m not launching a defence of the police, there clearly is work to be done. However to blame it on 13 years of Labour implies that it got worse post-1997. To think that is to be stupid.

            They were just as bad under the Tories, if no considerably worse. See Hillsborough and Orgreave for examples. Or do some research into what Operation Fernbridge is investigating. Police cover ups, chief constables manipulating or burying evidence etc was massively prevalent under Tory governments prior to 1997. I can’t abide the man, but you cannot blame it on Blair.

            And to even hint at a similarity between Hillsborough and Mitchellgate is ridiculously absurd.

      • The_Average_Joe_UK

        One headline however reprehensible does not mean that the left silences its critics, for we all know what this is about.

  • Pingback: The stage is set. Labour should now commit to media ownership reform | A Very Red Top()

  • jaime taurosangastre candelas

    “itdoesntaddup” below makes a very good point about the BBC, which has truly huge “market penetration” in the UK through TV, the internet and radio. I suspect more citizens get their news from the BBC in some format than they do from all of the newspapers added together.

    Within the print media, I wonder if the political leanings were precisely reversed (ie more left wing than right wing papers and market share), would the left complain? I suspect not. So the complaints are more along the lines of “it is not fair”, rather than of principle, or at least I believe so.

    If I am right, surely the answer is for the left to produce their own mass market newspaper?

    • The_Average_Joe_UK

      They do have their own publications, if fact they have a number of them.

      The Independent.
      The Grauniad
      The Mirror

      They just don’t sell much, any idea why? Could it be that people like Maguire treat his readers like dumb fodder feeding them with transparent tosh that a 5 year old would see through?

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        Of those 3, I only read the Guardian (and the Times, which I have now paid a subscription for).

        The Times seems to me to be reasonable, and balanced. The Guardian I like the editorial point of view. But there is a huge dissonance between the journalism and the comments: in both cases, it appears as though “the zoo” of lunatic right and left wingers has been let loose. The Guardian in particular is odd: a Liberal Democrat supporting newspaper with a completely mad hard left community of commenters. I dare not post anything on it.

        Goodness, compared with both, LL has a (mostly) sensible community of commenters.

        • rekrab

          Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.

          • The_Average_Joe_UK

            Your success as a human being Derek is testimony to this.

          • rekrab

            For you sae douce, ye sneer at this,
            Ye’re nought but senseless asses, O;
            The wisest man the warl’ e’er saw,
            He dearly loved the lasses, O.

            +2

          • The_Average_Joe_UK

            Whatever, might mean a lot to you but just boring words to me. The fact remains, the left wing press is a failure..

  • Daniel Speight

    It shouldn’t just be about media share, it should also be about ownership of the media by non-dom companies and individuals. Murdoch had to become an American citizen to fit in with the US laws on media ownership. Something similar here would force a change in both right and left media ownership.

    Bringing the BBC into the argument is just tea party rhetoric. Let’s just say you can’t own both a TV channel and a newspaper. Wasn’t that once in the US media ownership rules?

    • itdoesntaddup

      You’re out of date: people don’t do gossip at the vicarage tea party – they read Owen Jones’ twitterstorms instead.

  • JC

    I didn’t realise until I read your reference that you were only writing about the press and not media in general. Most people get their news and current affairs from a variety of sources now as we have the internet and satellite TV. You may not have noticed these as they do not support your old view of the world.

    The BBC is a source of news and current affairs for about 70% of the UK, which makes it very influential. Should this be addressed? I would suggest that it is a factor that is intrinsically linked to your organisation, especially as fewer people read newspapers than they did 10 years ago.

  • Hugh

    The BBC is no more accountable and responsive to complaint than any other TV or radio provider – and probably less so given viewers’ lack of choice over paying for it.

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