Government should openly and publicly reconsider its approach to media policy in the light of the phone hacking scandal. The undersigned individuals and organisations are concerned that the government’s approach to policymaking in the media sector does not fully reflect the seriousness of the ethical failures of news organisations in the UK.
In particular, the Culture Secretary should reconsider the aims and scope of his Communications Review, which set out a deregulatory approach to the media and the overarching goal of maximising the contribution that media make to economic growth. The Communications Review process should be brought in line with the Leveson Inquiry timetable and its terms should be updated to account for the changed circumstances and permit incorporation of the findings of the Inquiry.
Government, civil society organisations, the Leveson Inquiry and other stakeholders should acknowledge that:
- The democratic and cultural role of the media should be the priority of any reform. The ethical failure that is phone hacking demonstrates all too clearly the consequences of prioritising the commercial functions of journalism over its democratic purposes. When citizen and commercial interests conflict, the interests of the citizen must always be put first.
- Increased pressures in terms of resources, multi-platform and multi-deadline working have led to a situation in which many journalists cannot do the job they would like to do. Journalism in the public interest requires adequate resources.
- The behaviour of individual journalists and the individual relationships between senior members of the press, politics and police are linked to the structure of media industries and the pressures that arise within an intensively marketised media system.
- Concentrated ownership in the commercial media sector has led to unaccountable formations of media power which pose a grave threat to the checks and balances crucial to the UK constitution, and have undermined the effective operation and legitimacy of both political accountability and law enforcement. These concentrations of media power and their malign consequences have been exposed to public view in the phone hacking scandal and acknowledged by leading politicians from all major parties.
- Regulation should deal with the problem of concentrated media power at the structural, as well as behavioural level, and must be adequate to deal with new forms of monopoly power, particularly as regards relationships between networks and content providers.
- Communications regulation must have due regard to the public impact of any given media service. Channels and services with greater scale and impact should be subject to more regulation and higher standards of ethics.
- Regulation is needed to provide oversight of the media sector and to protect the public interest defined not in terms of market share or political influence but as what citizens need in order to play an informed role in a democratic society.
- Regulatory processes should be participatory, open, transparent and accountable.
As the Leveson Inquiry unfolds it is crucial for the legitimacy of the process and of the wider UK political system that resources and opportunities are provided to ensure that civil society voices can be heard in the process. It is essential that the debate about changing structures of media policy and regulation is inclusive, research based, and extends beyond those, such as politicians, journalists and celebrities, that have a direct interest in the outcome.
Sally Broughton Micova