Huffpost UK Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Natalie Bennett Headshot

Media Reform: Time to Go Back to Leveson

Posted: Updated:

At a Media Reform Coalition rally this week, Justin Schlosberg, author of Power Beyond Scrutiny, said that from the Eighties onwards, politicians, particularly Labour politicians, had learned that if they wanted to stay on the "right" side of Rupert Murdoch and other media proprietors, they needed to "never mention 'welfare' without adding the word reform", and stop talking about concepts like renationalisation.

Too true - and as I pointed out, that leaves huge swathes of public opinion unrepresented. (Around three-quarters of the public supports renationalising the railways, and at the rally, as ever, when I said "we must renationalise the railways" I got a big cheer.)

As Justin had been highlighting, this is a function of our oligarchic, indeed baronic, media ownership structure, with its dubious individuals - as Michelle Stanistreet of the National Union of Journalists had said earlier, as a former employee of Richard Desmond at The Express, she very much looked forward to the time when a strong "fit and proper persons" test was introduced for media ownership.

Eight months ago, Lord Leveson was recommending lots of things, virtually none of which have been implemented. We still have a media that, as Helen Belcher of Transmedia Watch eloquently explained, is failing to treat innocents who it chooses to victimise with accuracy, decency and respect.

I focused at the rally on the clearly political demonisation of recipients of welfare payments. If you read The Daily Mail, as I sadly do for professional reasons, you will find seemingly endless stories about families with many children dependent on benefits. Yet there are only just over 100 families with 10 children or more dependent on out-of-work benefits. If you do read the Mail, you know most of them by name.

The way this has been stepped up in line with Tory rhetoric trying to set, as Owen Jones later powerfully outlined, neighbour against neighbour, the employed against the unemployed, non-disabled against people with disabilities, long-term residents against migrants.

But I also highlighted the good parts of our media - from the developing local media sites such as the Dorset Eye and the impressive tranche of Barnet bloggers, to traditional media such as my own local Camden New Journal and Ham & High.
We must not despair - there is great work being done in the media (even with the latest lobbying exposes from publications that also frequently publish less honourably). And we need to push on.

The royal charter appears to be dead - kicked in the long grass, stuck in the mud; pick your metaphor. Instead we should go back to Lord Leveson's words of eight months ago, and start again. What he proposed for independent oversight of media regulation wasn't perfect, wasn't what the Green Party would choose, but it's a reasonable effort by a reasonable, independent man to find a way forward - a good place to start.

And at the same time we need to pick up the ball Leveson dropped - the issue that last night's rally focused on - media ownership.

It's encouraging that Harriet Harman is talking about a 15% cap on ownership, something the Green Party definitely backs, and is happy to work towards. It's a model that would ensure at least six competitive publications in any area - without cross ownership, a good place to head towards.

She's calling for a cross-party working group on the issue - and now, with Rupert Murdoch cosying up to Boris Johnson - might not be a bad time to try to get a Prime Minister on board. Certainly, there must be Tories who don't enjoy having their every move restricted by the views of a scattering of media tycoons, from the Barclay brothers to Alexander Lebedev.

More, to build on the positive, we should be looking at how we can encourage good new independent media, particularly local media - a licence fee-type arrangement, funded perhaps by a small tax on online adverts - plus charity status for independent local media, would be a good start.

The fact is that quality, independent, varied media, in which a wide range of voices and public views can be heard, are essential for our democracy. Given our current problems with democracy, with sinking election turnouts and widespread disillusionment, this is an issue that cannot be ignored.

Around the Web

Leveson under fire again over lawyer's affair

Leveson barrister who had affair with Hacked Off lawyer had 'significant' role ...

After Leveson - is citizen journalism the answer?

Leveson barrister paid £220000 of taxpayers' cash

The Met gagged Leveson Inquiry over claims that senior police officer sold ...

Leaving Leveson up to the courts? That will make things even slower

Guilty: Barristers watchdog (looking into the Leveson lovers scandal) is ...

Senior Labour peer claims 'Leveson agenda' behind cash-for-question stings

Coroner: 'It seems nothing has been learned from Leveson...': Inquiry into sex ...