Party Leaders 'Succumbing To Media Pressure' Over Ownership Rules, Says Graham Allen

Graham AllenGB Labour MP Nottingham North
Graham AllenGB Labour MP Nottingham North

The chairman of the Commons political and constitutional reform committee has warned that the controversial cross-party plan to regulate the press agreed by David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg entirely misses the point.

Labour MP Graham Allen said the proposed Royal Charter, which newspapers have yet to be convinced to sign up to anyway, is "tackling the symptom rather than the cause" of the problem with the media in Britain.

Speaking to The Huffington Post UK, Allen said the root issue that needed to be addressed was the fact that individual owners were allowed to control too big a percentage of the market each. However he said politicians had backed down from challenging their power in face of a "media onslaught".

"There needs to be limits of ownership within sectors," he said. "One man one newspaper. Those things should be open for discussion. A genuinely free press requires plurality, I don't think anyone would argue we have have the moment."

"In terms the limits, I think there should be a upper limit of ownership. It's very generous to suggest no one should own more than 30% of the newspaper market."

Allen said he was "very supportive" of the Royal Charter measures "as far as they go" - but questioned whether political leaders had deliberately dodged the issue of media ownership.

"I think early on in the charter process there was a line about media ownership. I think politicians are succumbing to pressure from the media and are anxious about it and keen for compromise," he said.

"I think there are debates all parties felt should be had about pluralism in the media and those debates haven't yet been properly voiced, they've been set aside currently. A lot of the things that have gone wrong with the press in particular can be traced back to that lack of plurality and lack of diversity which I think is at the heart of a free press."

He added: "Those issues are very important and need to be raised properly. And frankly leaving them out and compromising massively in the face of the media onslaught is chilling the debate that needs to be had. I think we need to be careful."

The Labour Party leadership has also suggested a 30% cap within the newspaper industry along side a 15% cap across the media as whole. The cut off point can be seen as a direct attack on Rupert Murdoch. The media mogul, who owns The Sun, The Sun on Sunday, The Times and The Sunday Times, controls around 37% of the newspaper market in the UK.

Labour deputy leader Harrier Harman told the Lords communications committee yesterday that stricter controls on how many newspapers one person could own was necessary in the "particularly pernicious in market of communications".

"It's about having a proper regime for guarding against monopoly and too much power," she said. Harman added that politicians could not help but try and please an "over-mighty media empire" if it owned a substantial proportion of the market.

Harman said she hoped the Lords inquiry into what amount of the media market one owner could control would provide the trigger for action just as the Leveson inquiry had forced parliament to address the issue of regulation.

However the government and the media remain in deadlock after the industry rejected the latest proposals to establish a new system of regulation. The newspaper industry, as well as many MPs, warn that the Royal Charter system will give politicians too much control over newspapers and threaten press freedom.

Bob Satchwell, the executive director of the Society of Editors, told the BBC: "You can't have a new system of regulation which is drawn up by and imposed by politicians. The things which are being proposed at the moment would be totally unconstitutional in the US and other countries."

Asked by Newsnight on Tuesday evening whether the New York Times would ever sign up to the system of regulation being proposed by the British government, the American newspaper's executive editor Jill Abramson replied simply: "Probably not."