The Conservative Party has pledged to offer journalists “explicit protection” under the British Bill of Rights, which it wants to replace the Human Rights Act, in its 2015 election manifesto.
Unlike Labour, the Tories have not committed to imposing the recommendations of the Leveson report and have made no mention of media owership.
The party, meanwhile, has reiterated its backing of Press Gazette's Save Our Sources campaign – saying police forces should be banned from accessing journalistic phone records without judicial approval – and confirmed its plan to hold a consultation on "the introduction of a business rates relief for local newspapers in England".
Yesterday, the Labour manifesto pledged to implement the recommendations made by Lord Justice Leveson following his inquiry into press ethics. It said: “We expect the industry to establish a mechanism for independent self-regulation, which delivers proper redress for individuals, as set out in the Royal Charter, and agreed by all parties in Parliament.”
On media plurality, Labour said: “No one media owner should be able to exert undue influence on public opinion and policy makers. No media company should have so much power that those who run it believe themselves above the rule of law. Yet the current system for protecting against these threats is inadequate. Labour will take steps to protect the principle of media plurality, so that no media outlet can get too big, including updating our rules for the 21st century media environment.”
On press regulation, the Conservative manifesto said: “We will continue to defend hard-won liberties and the operation of a free press. But alongside the media’s rights comes a clear responsibility, which is why we set up the public, judge-led Leveson Inquiry in response to the phone-hacking scandal, created a new watchdog by Royal Charter and legislated to toughen media libel laws.”
Under the heading "We will defend press freedom", it added: “Because the work of the free press is so important we will offer explicit protection for the role of journalists via the British Bill of Rights and we will ban the police from accessing journalists’ phone records to identify whistleblowers and other sources without prior judicial approval.”
The Liberal Democrat Party, which is also yet to release its manifesto, said earlier this month that it would commit to a United States-style first amendment, protecting freedom of the press, in its manifesto.
On the regional press, the Tory manifesto said: “Local newspapers are an important source of information for local communities and a vital part of a healthy democracy. To support them as they adapt to new technology and changing circumstances, we will consult on the introduction of a business rates relief for local newspapers in England.”
The Conservative manifesto also promised a “comprehensive review of the BBC Royal Charter, ensuring it delivers value for money for the licence fee payer, while maintaining a world class service and supporting our creative industries”.
It said: “That is why we froze the BBC licence fee and will keep it frozen, pending Charter renewal. And we will continue to ‘topslice’ the licence fee for digital infrastructure to support superfast broadband across the country.”
The Labour Party said on public service broadcasting: “Our system of public service broadcasting is one of Britain’s great strengths.
“The BBC makes a vital contribution to the richness of our cultural life, and we will ensure that it continues to do so while delivering value for money.
“We will also commit to keeping Channel 4 in public ownership, so it continues to produce vital public content.”
Picture (Reuters): David Cameron launching the Conservative manifesto