The Media Reform Coalition welcomes the fact that Labour’s election manifesto makes a commitment to protecting ‘the principle of media plurality’ and ‘preventing the concentration of media power in too few hands’.
This is an important step forwards. It shows that one of the main political parties in the UK is thinking seriously about the connection between democracy and the media, recognising that ‘the free flow of information and of different points of view is crucial for open debate and countering concentrations of unaccountable power.’
Labour takes the Leveson Inquiry as the benchmark for how to repair the damage done by the phone hacking scandal. But crucially, it goes beyond this and addresses the root cause of corruption: ‘No media company should have so much power that those who run it believe themselves above the rule of law.’
While the Labour manifesto doesn’t suggest any precise figures for the maximum share of the media market that a company should be allowed to control, it does at least signal the importance of ownership, insisting that ‘no one media owner should be able to exert undue influence…’
There is now a growing consensus that something has to be done to tackle concentrated media ownership.
Just under a month ago, the Green Party announced their commitment to enforcing a 20% maximum share in any individual media market as well as measures to tackle cross-media ownership.
Last week, Plaid Cymru’s election manifesto also stressed the importance of ‘a plurality of opinions and information sources’ and highlighted how concentration threatens to undermine coverage of Welsh politics and culture in particular. Plaid’s manifesto suggested positive measures to foster plurality such as giving local newspapers ‘the status of “community assets” so that owners could not close them without communities having the opportunity to keep their paper.’
Recent indications from sources in the Liberal Democrats suggest that the party’s manifesto will commit to regular plurality reviews and parliamentary (as opposed to ministerial) oversight of media takeovers.
In this election period we are keenly aware that a handful of companies which control the news agenda have the capacity to effectively stifle democratic debate. As the Media Reform Coalition’s recent YouGov poll revealed, the UK public knows that until the grip of media moguls is broken – or at least loosened – there can be no real democracy. Now is the time to press home the need for media reform.