Four years on from the start of the Leveson inquiry which sought to investigate the ‘culture, practices, and ethics of the press’ in the wake of the phone hacking scandal, the party manifestos present a real challenge to a free press in the UK.
It is remarkable that the bulk of manifestos fail to recognise the complex and challenging work the press have undertaken in establishing the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO).
IPSO was established in response the Leveson inquiry and report and delivers a far stronger and more powerful regulator than its predecessors. Crucially that is delivered within a self-regulatory model. The vast majority of national newspapers, regional titles and magazine publishers have backed IPSO as an independent regulator, and in Sir Alan Moses the body has a truly independent chairman.
In IPSO both the public and the press have a regulator in which they can have faith, and which is truly independent.
But with the general election now less than two weeks away, the main politics parties have taken an unprecedented step of attacking the free press. In words dressed up to support self-regulation, the Labour Party, Green Party and the Liberal Democrats all commit to a legislative programme if, in the view of the Press Recognition Panel – which is Government appointed – the media have not delivered a regulator they consider acceptable.
Specifically, each manifesto states:
Conservative manifesto offers to defend press freedom, but reminds publishers “we will continue to defend…. the operation of a free press. But alongside the media’s rights comes a clear responsibility”.
The Green manifesto commits them to “support legislation to implement the Leveson system”.
Labour’s manifesto states that in government they will “implement the recommendations of the Leveson inquiry” and Labour’s Tom Watson has launched the Labour for Leveson campaign which talks of newspaper owners who “continue to defy parliament”.
The Lib Dems state “parliament will need to act, drawing on a range of options including the legislative steps".
The SNP manifesto is less clear, calling for careful consideration of “the results of the first year review … to ensure effective regulation of the media on a non-political basis”.
What is clear from these manifestos is that politicians have not grasped the importance of press free from political regulation. These manifesto commitments make clear the intent to revisit the issue of statutory press regulation will be high on the agenda of government after May 7.
The PPA has always, and will continue, to champion press freedom and strongly opposes the use of legislation to regulate the press. We believe the press should be regulated by an independent system of self-regulation and have always supported the creation of IPSO to deliver that strong independent regulation. We will continue to support IPSO as the industry self-regulatory body and will actively oppose any measures to put press regulation on a statutory footing.
There should be no role for parliament and politicians in regulating a free and democratic press.
In the light of these new manifesto commitments, which highlight the risks facing all of us in the next parliament, the industry must stand united in support of press freedom.
Owen Meredith is head of public affairs at the Professional Publishers Association. Publishers who wish to discuss joining IPSO can email Owen.