Politicians and the Press a Year after Leveson: Has Anything Changed?

By Media Reform Coalition / Tuesday November 26, 2013 Read More

The Media Reform Coalition publishes today, just ahead of the first anniversary of the publication of Lord Justice Leveson’s report into press standards, a dossier on the corrosive relationship between politicians and the press as revealed by testimony to the Leveson Inquiry.

That inquiry revealed a pervasive culture of mutual interest between the press and politicians and our dossier highlights some dominant trends in the culture of press-politician relations that remain just as relevant one year after the publication of the Leveson Report. Key points from the dossier:
  • Leveson exposed the eagerness of senior politicians to build and maintain relations with powerful proprietors and to spend ‘a disproportionate amount of time, attention and resource on this relationship’.
  • Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, told the Leveson Inquiry that he perceived ‘a significant influence’ by the press ‘on the parameters of public debate in this country’. This influence over public discourse grants newspaper proprietors a position of power in relation to politicians. Rupert Murdoch described in his testimony how politicians are motivated to maintain relations with the press in the hope that their views will be ‘put across’, so that they might influence public opinion via a favourable press.
  • Tony Blair described the perceived necessity to stay on favourable terms with a powerful press: ‘[I]f you’re a political leader and you have very powerful media groups and you fall out with one of those groups, the consequence is such that it really means that you then are effectively blocked from getting across your message’.
  • Testimony to the Inquiry revealed a dominant view among proprietors that financial investment in newspapers should be rewarded with access to politicians. The owner of the Independent titles, Evgeny Lebedev, wrote in his witness statement to the Inquiry that, ‘I do […] think it reasonable that those who invest millions of pounds in publishing enjoy one potential benefit of that investment, which is the chance to meet politicians’. Lord Leveson commented on how proprietors avail of this position of access and influence: ‘[T]here have been those in positions of leadership of the press who have shown themselves to be exceptionally dedicated, powerful and effective political lobbyists’.
One year on from the Inquiry, these trends continue to require urgent attention. The cosy relationship between press and politicians distorts democracy in two ways: first by restricting public debate to those agendas favoured by press elites; and second by failing to insulate government policy making from the private interests of media proprietors. We need remedies to loosen the grip on the national conversation exercised by the most powerful media organisations – such as ownership thresholds, market caps, public interest obligations and creative interventions to stimulate new journalistic voices. Read the dossier in full here (pdf). Note to editors For further discussion please contact Professor Des Freedman on 07855 693265 or via d.freedman@gold.ac.uk. The Media Reform Coalition was set up in September 2011 to coordinate the most effective contribution by civil society groups, academics and media campaigners to debates over media regulation, ownership and democracy in the context of the phone hacking crisis and proposed communications legislation. We work with partner groups and supporting individuals to produce research and to organise campaigning activities aimed at creating a media system that operates in the public interest. Media Reform represents an independent coalition of groups and individuals committed to maximising the public interest in communications. The current chair is Professor Des Freedman of Goldsmiths, University of London. The Media Reform Coalition is committed to:
  • Supporting media pluralism;
  • Defending ethical journalism;
  • Protecting investigative and local journalism.