Tory Manifesto: Libel and press ownership reform

The Conservatives party today pledged in its election manifesto to reform libel laws and sweep away regional press ownership rules.

The commitment to libel reform will raise the hopes of campaigners that if elected the Conservatives would support the Libel Reform Bill, proposed last month by the Ministry of Justice, as well as the move to reduce the costs associated with defending a libel claim.

In the Conservative manifesto, released this morning, the party states: “We will review and reform libel laws to protect freedom of speech, reduce costs and discourage libel tourism.”

A Ministry of Justice plan to cut success fees charged by lawyers who take on “no win, no fee” libel cases failed to make it through the commons before the general election was called.

There is no mention of broadcasting in the Conservative manifesto. But shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has previously said his party will kill off a Government scheme which proposes to replace broadcast regional news provided by ITV with Independently Funded News Consortia, paid for with £130m of BBC licence fee cash.

However, the Conservative manifesto states: “Our plans to decentralise power will only work properly if there is strong, independent and vibrant local media to hold local authorities to account. We will sweep away the rules that stop local newspapers owning other local media platforms and create a new network of local television stations. And we will tighten the rules on taxpayer-funded publicity spending by town halls.”

The Labour Party manifesto, released yesterday explicitly promised a libel bill and renewed the party’s backing for IFNCs.

It said: “We strongly support measures that improve the transparency of parliamentary institutions and government, and want to see this principle extended throughout public life.

“To encourage freedom of speech and access to information, we will bring forward new legislation on libel to protect the right of defendants to speak freely…

“We are committed to maintaining plurality in regional news provision. We will fund three regional news programme pilots from the digital switchover under-spend in the current licence-fee period.”

The Liberal Democrats release their manifesto tomorrow.

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