Media ownership: what have Liberal Democrats said?

Flicking through old general election manifestos of the Liberal Democrats and our predecessor parties at the weekend, I was surprised to find how recent references to concerns over the pattern of media ownership in the UK are. It really is only with the 1997 general election manifesto that explicit policies about protecting or improving the diversity of media ownership feature.

Given the number of technological innovations over the years, it is no surprise that some of the manifesto policies now read as very dated – 1983’s concerns over the impact of video tapes in particular. Yet the actual or feared power of media magnates is not a new issue in Britain, with the most famous quote decrying their influence dating back to 1931 and Stanley Baldwin’s Rudyard Kipling inspired comment that, “What the proprietorship of these papers is aiming at is power, and power without responsibility — the prerogative of the harlot through the ages”.

Ownership structures in other sectors of industry often interested our predecessors and, rather oddly, the rise in concern about media ownership structures matches up chronologically with the fall away in interest in wider issues of mutual ownership, industrial democracy and the like. That helps explain why Liberal Democrat contributions to debate over media control rarely extend beyond basic statements along the lines of “don’t let anyone have too much”.

So I hope the cross-blog theme this week of media control will encourage Liberal Democrats to take part in a richer debate on the topic – which you can start of course in the comments thread below.

To give you a prompt, here is what the 2010 manifesto said:

A strong and diverse media, free from government interference and pressure is essential to a free and democratic society. We will:

  • Ensure that the BBC remains strong, free from interference and securely funded, not least to provide impartial news, independent of political and commercial pressures. We will also ensure that the BBC does not undermine the viability of other media providers through unfair competition based on its public funding and dominant position.
  • Support a diverse regional and local media. We will help to maintain independent local sources of news and information by enabling partnerships between TV, radio and newspaper companies to reduce costs, and by limiting publicly-subsidised competition for paid advertising from local council free-sheets.
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One Comment

  • Patrick Smith 9th Aug '11 - 6:17pm

    A policy that promotes a strong and diverse national and local media is highly desirable in future after the problems circumventing the potential for monopoly if one or two oligarchists are allowed by law to own a large part of the national media aka Italy and Murdoch Empire US/UK/Australia…It is essential for a sound Liberal policy to foster a strong local press and radio that reports the primacy of community and individuals.

    The failure of the self serving Press Complaints Council has shown it is time for real reform in the name of independent media arbitration with proper legal powers.

    The British Press has seen a litany of owners that include honourable people such as David Astor Observer Editor who helped found Amnesty International and Hugh Cudlipp at the Daily Mirror.

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