Lib Dem Voice polled our members-only forum recently to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Over 500 party members have responded, and we’re publishing the full results.
LDV asked: Generally speaking, which of the following best reflects your view?
20% – It is vital for our democracy that a free press is protected. Whatever the failings of a few journalists, statutory regulation set up by politicians would risk damaging our press freedom
65% – The behaviour of our press and journalists has gone too far and they can no longer be trusted to set up their own regulatory system, Parliament should act to introduce proper legal regulation
12% – Neither
3% – Don’t know
By a 3:1 majority Lib Dem members think that press and journalists have “gone too far” and back new laws to underpin press regulation. Of the 12% who selected ‘neither’ a significant proportion felt Leveson’s proposals squared the circle of protecting press freedom while introducing effective legal regulation.
In his report on the press, Lord Justice Leveson has recommended that there should be a new regulatory body. It would be set up by the press and appointed in an independent way, with no serving newspaper editors or politicians on the board. Leveson also proposed that there should be new laws passed by MPs to underpin the regulator. It would be approved and overseen either by Ofcom (a government appointed body that already regulates the broadcast media, postal service and phone companies), or alternatively by an independently appointed recognition commission, backed by a law.
80% – Support
11% – Oppose
5% – Neither
3% – Don’t know
No doubt here about the result: 4-in-5 Lib Dem members in our survey back the Leveson proposals. Here’s a sample of your comments:
There are obvious dangers in creating statutory press regulation, but clearly there is also a serious problem, largely of the press’s own making. Journalists and publishers cannot act like criminals and still expect special treatment. It’s either one thing or the other and far too many of them have made the wrong choice.
The status quo of self-regulation has to go, but I’m uncomfortable with further laws restraining our press. Most of the past bad behaviour is also already covered by the law.
The new system isn’t proper statutory regulation because the press decide on their own code of conduct. I support Leveson, although the Ofcom bit goes too far.
This appears to be a sensible proposal: it uses a legal framework to ensure that there is a credible regulator, but keeps statute at a safe distance from the press to protect the freedom of the press.
The threat of legislation is necessary to produce a voluntary code.
No laws to underpin anything – this is the first step to limiting freedom of speech.
It is not illiberal to advocate statutory underpinning of citizens’ rights against powerful commercial interests.
These people have to be brought under some control, they have had enough chances.
The distinction between state regulation and independent self-regulation with statutory underpinning that Leveson has drawn is just a parsing of words.
The liberty of journalists should not be at the expense of other individuals’ liberty. The rights of individuals to live their lives in liberty should be protected against intrusive media behaviour.
At present, Ofcom and the Competition Commission make rulings over who owns media in the UK, aiming to ensure healthy competition and a range of different voices. Some people have argued that anyone who wants to own media in the UK should be allowed to do so but others think that there should be fixed limits placed on who can own the UK’s media. Which of these statements comes closest to your view?
5% – Anyone who wants to own media in the UK should be allowed to do so
43% – Who owns the UK media should continue to be judged on a case by case basis by Ofcom and the Competition Commission
50% – There should be fixed limits to the level of UK media a person can own
1% – None of these
1% – Don’t known
On the issue of media plurality, opinion is more divided. While only 1-in-20 members favour a free-for-all, 50% of members want ‘fixed limits’ on the media ownership, while 43% favour the status quo of case-by-case decision-making. Here’s a sample of your comments:
If we want a free press, then we have to be careful that there is a good amount of competition in the sector. Otherwise, we will just end up with a limited perspective
Arbitrary fixed limits are not appropriate, but competition should be more robustly encouraged to ensure plurality and the ability of new voices to enter the market.
Liberals should be suspicious of excessive concentrations of power, and never more so than with the media, which can exert very significant influence over society. With that said, any regulatory regime must be flexible rather than dogmatic.
If there is independent, statute based regulation it would not matter who owned the UK press.
The Competition Commission (ex Monopolies and Mergers Commission) has proved an inadequate quango to adjudicate on such matters. The only recourse is fixed legal limits.
But it is important to understand the obviously huge barriers to entry to certainly national scale media (including, e.g. privileged access to spectrum for electronic media). 6 new newspaper titles in 100 years does not give the impression of a freely competitive market.
I would argue that British media should be owned solely by British citizens paying full taxes in Britain.
There should also be a prerequisite for a person to pay tax at the UK rate before owning more than a certain percentage of this country’s media.
Limits to ensure fair competition – i.e. to ensure there isn’t dominance of any 1 or a group of providers and that new entrants can come in
It should not be restricted as long as no law is broken and the beneficial ownership is known in the public domain. It is important for plurality that no one player owns so much of the market in any area that they are able to dominate it.
* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.