With the launch of the SNP manifesto today (April 20) all the major parties have outlined their thoughts on the newspaper and media industries.
Of the four, the Liberal Democrats have the most to say about the laws directly affecting newspapers and have pledged to introduce what would amount to statutory regulation of the Press if the government-appointed recognition panel deems the industry to have fallen shot of the government’s Royal Charter proposals.
Labour has more to say about what they judge to be a “damaging” concentration of media power without specifying exactly who or what they mean. Labour also insists the Royal Charter plan for the introduction of the Leveson recommendations will be implemented.
Neither the SNP nor the Conservatives make such a clear commitment to the imposition of the Royal Charter.
Both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems claim the credit for the 2013 Defamation Act, which was not introduced in Scotland. The Conservatives make the strange claim that the Act is “tougher” than the 1996 Act it replaced when it actually only attempted to clarify and codify aspects of defamation law which had evolved through case law. If anything, the 2013 Act sought to limit punitive damages awards in the English courts.
They are in agreement about the reform of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to force public authorities to seek permission from a judge to use communications data to identify journalists’ sources.
The Greens propose a wide-ranging Digital Bill, but join Labour and the Lib Dems in calling for the implementation of the Royal Charter and mirror the Labour threat to limit media ownership.
Here are the relevant paragraphs relating to the Press in the manifestos:
“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.”
“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.”
“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 believe the Scottish Government should consult on the introduction of a business rates relief for local newspapers.”
“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 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.”
- 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 self-regulation.
- Replace the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.