Leveson II, break up of News UK, state-backed press regulation... what the election could mean for journalists

The outcome of next month's general election could have dramatic consequences for the future of journalism in the UK.

In 2010 there was broad cross-party consensus on keeping self-regulation of the press and journalism was not on the political agenda.

But this time, in the wake the Leveson Inquiry and the RIPA scandal, the three main political parties have much more to say about media issues.

Below are the main points from the election manifestos which effect journalists.

Note: UKIP don't say anything about media issues in their manifesto and the SNP manifesto has not yet been published.

Read all Press Gazette's general election 2015 coverage here.

Press regulation

The Greens, Labour and the Lib Dems all agree that if newspapers continue to refuse to sign up to a Leveson-compliant system of press regulation they should be forced to do so.

So in the event of a Labour-Lib Dem coalition we can expect the newspaper industry to be asked by politicians to change its regulator IPSO to make it comply with the Royal Charter on press regulation. This would chiefly involve making the regulator fully independent of publishers.

We can expect an almighty battle between the newspaper and magazine industry and the government if this happens. Most publishers are stalwartly opposed to Royal Charter-backed press regulation because they see it as a step towards state control of the press.

If publishers continue to dig their heels in, action can be expected from Parliament. Sir Brian Leveson suggested in his 2012 report that in this scenario a backstop press regulator would need to be set up by Ofcom.

The Conservatives talk about Leveson in their manifesto, but only in the past tense. The indication is clear that they think existing press regulator IPSO is good enough.

Media ownership

The Liberal Democrats make some broad promises on media plurality, asking Ofcom to carry out periodic reviews.

The Labour Party also talks about plurality and appears to suggest that Rupert Murdoch's News UK is too big. They say: "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."

This can only be targeted at News UK, which is the UK's biggest national newspaper publisher with The Sun , The Times and The Sunday Times. Media plurality campaigners would like to see a 30 per cent limit on ownership in any one market (with the exception of the BBC). This would hit News UK as it has 32 per cent of the national daily newspaper market, and 34.5 per cent of the Sunday market.

RIPA

The Save Our Sources law was passed in March (well done the Coalition), but whatever party forms the next government there must be legislation on the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. A time-limit has been set in place on current legislation.

The Greens are strongest on this, calling for RIPA to be scrapped in order to protect journalists’ sources.

The Lib Dems say they will ensure that journalists are notified of police requests to view their phone, when this would not jeopardise an investigation,

The Conservatives said in their manifesto "we will ban the police from accessing journalists’ phone records to identify whistleblowers and other sources without prior judicial approval" – which is something they have already done. The Conservatives have already indicated that they don't believe journalists should be told when police apply to a judge to view their phone records.

Press freedom/freedom of speech

The Conservatives want to abolish the Human Rights Act. Some journalists might cheer this because of Article 8 (the right to privacy). But the Act also provides strong protection for journalism under Article 10 (freedom of expression).

The only reason The Sun has been able to challenge the Met Police over it accessing the paper's phone records is because of Article 10, which protects journalists' sources.

On the other hand the Conservative are promising "explicit protection for the role of journalists via the British Bill of Rights".

The Lib Dems have also promised action to protect freedom of speech via a UK version of the US First Amendment to the Constitution: this prohibits the making of any law abridging the freedom of speech or infringing on the freedom of the press.

And the Lib Dems have promised a consultation on changing the laws covering phone-hacking and bribery to ensure that journalists have a new defence if they were acting in the public interest. They believe this could remove the chilling effect on freedom of expression caused by the threat if prosecution (with at least 64 journalists arrested in the UK over the last four months for alleged crimes committed in the course of their jobs).

The regional press

The Conservatives follow through on one of George Osborne's budget surprises in their manifesto, offering a consultation on business rates relief for local newspaper in England. This is good news and a welcome development. Though unless that money is somehow ring-fenced to invest in journalism, press owners would be likely to return it straight to investors and shareholders via higher profits.

Broadcasting

The Lib Dems would scrap Local TV, the plan to provide dozens of new city-wide TV channels across the UK. Viewing figures for the handful of channels to launch so far have been disappointing. The party wants to spend the £40m local TV funding (taken from the BBC licence fee) on promoting other local media.

Leveson II

The Lib Dems seem to be the only party to remember that part two of the Leveson Inquiry, the bit which actually looks into the hacking scandal, is yet to happen. They promise in their manifesto that this will reconvene, after prosecutions have finished. But with the hacking trials of Mirror journalists yet to even start, this could be a long way off.

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