Three-D Issue 20: The Media Reform Coalition’s next steps

Deborah Grayson, Media Reform Coalition and Goldsmiths

Media Reform websiteThe Media Reform Coalition was founded in the autumn of 2011 to bring together academics and civil society groups around the Leveson Inquiry and Communications Review. As the first part of the Leveson process draws to a close eighteen months on, we appear to have finally called time on the worst of self-interested and unaccountable press regulation. Thanks largely to the tireless work of the Hacked Off campaign, we now have cross-party support for an independent regulator underpinned in statute, capable of directing apologies and taking third-party complaints – a major achievement against considerable odds. However, the MRC believe that we must build on this success to push for more substantial change, and we will be continue to work over the coming months on a number of issues around ownership, local news provision and promoting public interest journalism.

In the short term, we will be engaging in the debate around the regulation of online news, and we are currently convening a group of bloggers and small online news publishers to help develop our ideas. In a debate which has largely centred on how to avoid the threat of exemplary damages for small bloggers, we want to explore proposals that would use the regulator to protect and promote online journalism. The MRC position has always been that news enterprises beneath the VAT threshold (currently £77,000 turnover a year) should be allowed free associate membership of the regulator and access to its arbitration service. In the pause over the Easter recess we will be campaigning for more clarity in the Crime and Courts Bill amendments relating to the internet, but there will also be a role afterwards for lobbying directed at the new regulator itself.

Beyond this, our hope is that as the furore over regulation dies down it will become possible to begin talking again about the root cause of the awful press abuses catalogued by the Leveson Inquiry: the concentration of power in the hands of the tiny number of owners and editors who dominate the British media. We will be revisiting our proposals on ownership in the light of the Leveson report, and our latest research on media concentration in the UK, at a seminar in early May. If you would like to be involved please contact Justin Schlosberg (j.schlosberg@bbk.ac.uk) – we particularly welcome critical responses to our current proposals, which can be read on our website [PDF].

We are also supporting the European Citizens Initiative on media pluralism which needs to gather 1 million signatures across Europe before October, including at least 50,000 in the UK. The ECI is calling for a European Directive which recognises the importance of a sufficiently diverse media landscape, and which is able to challenge the antidemocratic relationships between media corporations and governments seen in various forms in a number of member states. From the UK’s point of view, the hope is that such a Directive would allow the European leg of any major mergers in future to become a genuine hurdle, rather than being waived through like News Corp’s BSkyB bid in 2011.

Closer to home, we will be looking again at steps to revitalise local news provision, working with Dave Boyle from Coops UK to identify potential test cases where local newspapers at risk of closure could be helped to become cooperative news ventures. (If you are aware of a suitable case, please do contact us at info@mediareform.org.uk.) As and when we come across legal barriers, we hope to collaborate with Local Works to use the Sustainable Communities Act to lobby for the changes necessary at the national level.

As for the long-awaited Communications Review, after numerous delays we’re told that the White Paper should finally appear in the next few months, though this may have to be seen to be believed! We have put in an FOI request for the 2012 Green Paper that-never-was which will be a useful piece of evidence whether or not the White Paper ever sees the light of day – and whether or not either contains any substantial policies on media. Leveson’s demure recommendations on ownership at least had the virtue of passing the issue back to Parliament, providing a starting point for campaigning if we do indeed see silence in this area within the proposed Bill.

Finally, we will be working towards our ICA pre-conference and rally on June 17th, at which we will be welcoming the founder of FreePress Bob McChesney. The pre-conference will be at Goldsmiths and the rally at Westminster central campus, with sessions and speakers to be confirmed shortly. Please save the date and join us there!

Posted by Einar Thorsen