Media coverage following Maria Miller’s appearance in front of the culture, media and sport select committee in December 2013 focused on press regulation, but she was also asked about the government’s progress on media plurality, in light of Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations.
The Secretary of State’s comments, reproduced and highlighted in red below, indicate that the government is focusing on the development of a measurement framework and runs the risk of neglecting broader issues of media plurality.
In written evidence to the government’s consultation, Professor Steven Barnett raised his concern that while the consultation paper started with the broad-brush approach of the Leveson report, it then appeared to limit its scope to issues of measurement and consumption.
This focus does not allow for what the eminent American political scientist, Edwin Baker, called “communicative power”. While undue concentration of media ownership is certainly unwelcome because of its potential influence on diversity of news, information and ideas in a democracy, there are other potentially harmful consequences for democracy.
A measurement framework which is constructed purely around statistical models of consumption or “share of references” by definition takes little account of opinion-forming impacts of different media forms.
Furthermore, the government must look at the current policy regime around plurality – in particular, the Public Interest test – which we suggest is not fit for purpose.
These and other concerns are also addressed in our recommendations to the House of Lords select committee inquiry on media plurality.
Extract from oral evidence by Maria Miller, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to the Culture, Media and Sport committee, 18 December 2013:
Q49 Mr Bradshaw: Not quite. I had one other question on Leveson. What progress has your Department made in implementing Sir Brian’s recommendations on media plurality?
Maria Miller: Mr Bradshaw is absolutely right to say that media plurality was another aspect of Lord Justice Leveson’s report. A consultation on plurality closed on 22 October, and we are due to publish the consultation report early next year. I think that that will give us a foundation from which we can move forward on that really important issue.
Q51 Chair: On Mr Bradshaw’s first question about media plurality, your communications and creative industries Minister said to the Lords Communications Committee that it is unlikely that there would be any legislative measures taken on media plurality in this Parliament. I take it you would agree with him on that.
Maria Miller: What we are focusing on, Chair, is the importance of understanding how we deal with media plurality in what is a very different and ever-changing environment. Our consultation has been seeking views on the scope of a measurement framework, and then, when we have got through that particular part of our deliberations, we intend to commission the development of a clear measurement framework and work that up in partnership with the industry.
This is a highly complex area which is, frankly, only getting more complicated, but at the heart of our approach is ensuring that British people have the ability to access a wide range of news and views, and information about the world in which they live. We believe that that plurality of information is at the heart of having a healthy and vibrant democracy.
Q52 Chair: From what you say, it sounds as if it is unlikely that it will be in the next Parliament either. It is going to take a long time.
Maria Miller: Again, I think it is important that we get it right. I think the Committee would be urging us to get it right and it is certainly a complicated area.
Chair: Let us move on to something completely different.