It is up to media watchdog Ofcom to decide whether to ban Russia Today (RT) from broadcasting in Britain Matt Hancock said today, as he announced the make-up of a review into the future of the British press.
Speaking at the Oxford Media Convention on Monday, the culture secretary said the review will examine whether state intervention is needed to safeguard the future of a “free and independent” press and protect the “future of our liberal democracy”.
He announced former Economist journalist Dame Frances Cairncross would chair the review.
She will report back within one year with “solutions to protect the future of high quality journalism” amid financial pressures.
Polly Curtis, the editor-in-chief of HuffPost UK, will be one of the panel members.
Other members of the review include former Mail on Sunday editor Peter Wright and KM Media Group chair Geraldine Allinson.
Speaking in Oxford, Hancock said the review was “not about government regulating the media” or “propping up old business models that have stopped being viable”.
“It is about making sure we don’t wake up wake up in four years time and find that high quality journalism has been decimated and our democracy damaged as a result,” he said.
“Sustaining high quality high journalism is a vital public policy goal. The scrutiny, the accountability, the uncovering of wrongs, the fueling of debate is mission critical to a healthy democracy,” he said.
“I tremble at the thought of a media regulated by the state at the time of malevolent forces in politics. Get this wrong and I fear for the future of our liberal democracy.”
Asked whether Russia Today should be restricted or banned from broadcasting in the UK in the wake of the Sergei Skripal attack, Hancock said that was a matter for the regulator.
“We’ve got to make sure we have high quality, objective, journalism in the UK and it’s Ofcom’s role to police that,” he said.
Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, has said it was now time to “crack down” and consider revoking RT’s license.
John McDonnell said on Sunday he will stop appearing on the Russian news network as it “goes beyond objective journalism”.
The shadow chancellor told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show he accepted giving interviews to the Russian government-funded station was no longer “the right thing to do” and would be urging colleagues to follow his lead.
But sources close to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told HuffPost UK he would not engage in a boycott and that it was up to Ofcom to regulate broadcasters.
Hancock also defended scrapping the second part of the Leveson Inquiry - which was due to examine the relationship between the press and the police.
He said going ahead with the inquiry would distract from the “big questions” about the future of the media.
“Re-opening the Leveson inquiry would have made harder not easier to address the big challenges that we face,” he said.
“Re-looking again at issues where the activities that we were wrong took place around a decade ago and base our forward looking thinking on something that was just in a completely different world would be wrong. The world has changed and we have to focus on the future.”
Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, has said proceeding with Leveson was the “only way to reach the truth and achieve justice for victims”.