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The scores are in for the media manifestos

27 Nov 2019  |  Raymond Snoddy 
The scores are in for the media manifestos

Raymond Snoddy has scoured the manifestos of the main political parties to understand their positions on the media and creative industries. Brace yourself for some dreary scores

It is entirely understandable that in the run-up to a divisive general election the headlines should be dominated by Brexit, the NHS, antisemitism, the veracity of Prime Minister Johnson and the credibility of Labour’s spending plans.

It is still astonishing that the future of one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy, the media and creative industries, are all but invisible in some of the manifestos of the main parties.

Huge issues affecting not just the media but the nature of civil society – everything from protecting sustainable journalism to the future of the BBC and the effect of the tech giants on the communication industries might as well be missing.

Where they are mentioned at all the “pledges” are dealt with through the blandest of generalities, undefined promises of action.

Even the most effective of magnifying glasses cannot detect a reference anywhere to the Cairncross review into protecting the future of journalism.

The silence of matters media and creative in the Conservative manifesto is nearly total, yet as things stand the bookies believe that Boris Johnson and his Conservatives are on course to have a Parliamentary majority.

Almost as much attention is given to filling in pot-holes than a sector which official figures say is worth £100 billion to the UK and has grown at twice the rate of the general economy since 2010.

There is one important paragraph for the newspaper industry. A Conservative Government will “champion freedom of expression” and will repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2014 and will not proceed with a second stage of the Leveson Inquiry.

Important confirmation but Leveson 2 has already been voted down in the House of Commons. Even Tom Watson, who led the Labour drive for more press regulation, and who is no longer with us politically, took against Section 40 in the end.

Making newspapers pay the costs of those who sued them for libel even when they won was always an affront to natural justice and an existential threat to local newspapers.

But err ...that’s about it folks, apart from the opportunity the Festival of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 2020 will give to leading arts and cultural organisations to “inspire the next generation in British innovation and creativity.”

Finally, under a section entitled 'Supporting Rural Life and Coastal Communities', we have the following: “We intend to make their lives easier. We want to roll out gigabit broadband across the country by 2025 with £5 billion funding already promised and provide greater mobile coverage across the country.”

Note the conditional tense and the lack of a single penny not already promised.

Unless there is a section unaccountably missing from my copy of the manifesto, that all adds up to the sum total of the Conservative future vision for the UK media and creative industries which will be even more important in a Brexit Britain.

Labour at least has a vision for the future of broadband with a plan to privatise BT’s Openreach division and everyone in the country will have free broadband whether they want it or not by 2030

Labour estimates the cost will be £20 billion though BT believes the construction costs will be closer to £40 billion.

Labour says that the running costs of the public full-fibre network will be met by taxing “multi-nationals, including tech giants.”

The Corbyn manifesto has a section on the media. The problem is trying to work out what will actually happen as a result.

Labour will “protect free TV licences for the over-75s” but neglects to say whether the Government will pay or whether it will effectively impose a 20 per cent hit to the BBC’s budget with associated service cuts and job losses.

A Labour Government will address “misconduct and the unresolved failures of corporate raised by the second stage of the abandoned Leveson inquiry.

How? What? Will there be a second Leveson after all? Or not?

Steps will also be taken to ensure that Ofcom is better able to safeguard a healthy plurality of media ownership and clearer rules on who represents a fit and proper person to run a TV or radio station.

Who’s against “a healthy plurality of media ownership” just so long as politicians understand that in current circumstances the threat to financial survival seems more pressing than worrying about the state of traditional media monopolies.

Then there is a good sentence that seeks to address the heart of the problem.

“We will take action to address the monopolistic hold the tech giants have on advertising revenues and will support vital local newspapers and media outlets,” the manifesto says.

Promising, and at least it’s there, but alas no clue is given on what that “action” is likely to be, or appreciation of the difficulties involved.

Labour’s media manifesto is a beacon of clarity when compared with the media vagueness of the last forlorn hope of the Remainers – the Liberal Democrats.

The Lib Dems are for installing a hyper-fast broadband with a particular emphasis on rural areas. That’s it.

They have a paragraph on the creative industries and are in favour of industry specific tax incentives and would have a look at patent reform. The Lib Dem also like the video gaming industry.

The Lib Dems, you will be reassured to know, believe in the independence of the BBC though there is little evidence that anybody is against such a thing.

On the most contentious issue facing the Corporation, the funding of the licence fees for the over-75s, there is silence.

They would set up a BBC Licence Fee Commission although we are left to guess what it would actually do.

You will be equally glad to know that the Lib Dems are in favour of keeping Channel 4 in public ownership even though no-one serious is threatening to do anything different.

The Lib Dems must have electoral hopes in Wales because the party is pledged to protecting the independence and funding of the Welsh Fourth Channel.

The scores are in for the media manifestos. One out of ten for the Tories, two for the Lib Dems and four out of ten for Labour for at least raising some of significant issues.

Mercifully the Brexit Party will be unable to form a government because they have come up with the most eye-catching media policy of all in their “contract” – phasing out the BBC licence fee.

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09 Dec 2019 

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