Home > Media > Will media regulation be an election issue?

Will media regulation be an election issue?

Lord Mandelson’s comments in the House of Lords yesterday sought to draw some of the battle lines for the election in relation to media policy, in particular defending the role of the regulator Ofcom.

He also hit back against some of James Murdoch’s criticisms of British media policies. Speaking on the Digital Economy Bill, Mandelson said there ‘are some in the commercial sector’ that ‘want to erode the commitment to impartiality – in other words, to fill British airwaves with more Fox-style news.’

Labour are keen to portray the Conservatives as in the pocket of the Murdochs, especially since The Sun threw its support behind Cameron. This may seem a bit rich, given that Labour has been accused of the same enough times in the past. While the Conservatives may have called for Ofcom to be abolished, as far as I’m aware, they have not proposed to water down the rules requiring broadcasters to cover politics with ‘due impartiality’ (and the Conservatives themselves were responsible for passing a stricter version of the rules in 1990). I hope it does not become their policy either. The impartiality rules are not about partisan advantage and shouldn’t become a political football. Without the rules on impartiality, there would be a greater danger for politicians to be in the pocket of the media owners and to court favourable coverage on television.

How the impartiality rules are applied and who they should apply to  in the digital era is a difficult issue. As British politics includes a broader range of political parties, there are also questions about what impartiality requires – for example whether and the extent to which fringe parties need to be included in coverage. These issues require serious debate. That said, the principle of impartiality is still important and helps to limit the political influence of those controlling the broadcast media.

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Categories: Media
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