Media reform campaigners have welcomed Labour’s manifesto promise to tackle media plurality.
In its manifesto released yesterday the Labour Party said it would “take steps to protect the principle of media plurality, so that no media outlet can get too big”.
The party appeared single out Rupert Murdoch's News UK with apparent reference to the hacking scandal which said: "No media company should have so much power that those who run it believe themselves above the rule of law."
Labour has not set out how it would cap media ownership. But if it adopts the proposals of campaigners, it could limit national newspaper ownership to 30 per cent of the market.
Such a law could lead to the break-up of News UK which currently publishes 32 per cent of the national daily newspapers audited by ABC and 34.5 per cent of the Sunday market with its Sun, Times and Sunday Times titles.
The Media Reform Coalition and the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom said in their Media Manifesto that media ownership should be capped at "20 or 30 per cent of a designated media market".
They also call for a 15 per cent threshold, after which any media owner would be subjected to a public interest test in the event of any merger or takeover. This public interest test would look at factors including the publishers' investment in newsgathering, investment in local journalism and editorial independence from commercial pressure.
Dr Jonathan Hardy, national secretary of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, said that regulating ownership of online media would be more complicated. "I do not think we are yet at the point where it's appropriate to talk about divestment measures when it comes to online alone," he said.
Plurality campaigners do not want to target the BBC because it is publicly-funded and already has rules in place to protect its independence. Similarly, the Labour Party said in its manifesto that it wants to protect the BBC.
Press Gazette has speculated that if media plurality changes took into account print and online readership, Lord Rothermere could also be hit by the plans. According to the National Readership Survey, Rothermere's Daily Mail and Metro titles have 37.7m readers a month in print and online versus 18.5m for Murdoch's Sun and Times titles.
The reform groups said in a statement: “Labour’s manifesto shows that one of the main political parties in the UK is thinking seriously about the connection between democracy and the media, recognising that diverse voices in the media are crucial for open debate.”
The campaigners said there was “a growing consensus that something has to be done to tackle concentrated media ownership”.
The Green Party’s manifesto also committed to limiting media ownership. It said the party would: “Tighten the rules on cross-media ownership and ensure that no individual or company owns more than 20 per cent of a media market.”
Plaid Cymru’s manifesto contains similar suggestions.
Labour's manifesto statement on media plurality in full:
The free flow of information and of different points of view is crucial for open debate and countering concentrations of unaccountable power.
That is why the concentration of media power in too few hands is damaging to our democracy.
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.