Sunday 26 April 2015

Press freedom must be more than the freedom for the wealthy to express their opinions

One of the many different issues that General Election candidates are being questioned about is the issue of 'press freedom'. Here is my reply to the emails that I have received:

Thank you for getting in touch to publicise to Election candidates your concerns about the lack of real press freedom in Britain and the undue influence that press barons like Rupert Murdoch can exert.

I completely share your concerns. The 2015 World Press Freedom Index put the UK only in 34th place. The ‘Murdochgate’ scandal helped to expose the close links between David Cameron and News of the World editors but also between Tony Blair and Murdoch too. Just recently, Richard Desmond announced he was donating £1m to UKIP, a Party that likes to pretend it isn’t part of that establishment.

These links are designed to bind together the political parties with the interests of the wealthy super-rich. Their ranks have swelled by another 13 billionaires in the last year according to the latest Sunday Times rich-list – and they say ‘we’re all in it together’!

Of course, it is made very clear to those Party leaders that if they speak out against those big business interests, they can expect to be silenced or attacked in the press. TUSC, as a Party campaigning against the austerity policies of big business and their establishment parties, is itself a victim of the lack of genuine media freedom. With 135 candidates standing in the General Election, well over the legal threshold for ‘fair coverage’, we have been largely excluded from much of the media, opinion poll forecasts and, of course, the leadership debates.

Despite this, our 280 seconds of Party Political Broadcast, backed up by the campaigning we are doing in towns and cities across Britain, has already helped to break down the barriers put up to hide our alternative voice from voters. Our policies for decent homes, wages and services chime with people’s views and mean our support is growing all the time.

The pledge in our broadcast from TUSC candidates, including Dave Nellist and myself, to be a ‘workers’ MP on a worker’s wage’ also wins support. It is a policy that hopefully reassures voters that TUSC’s elected representatives will remain committed to the people that backed them, rather than being persuaded otherwise by the press barons.

TUSC would certainly support tighter rules on media ownership and legislation to support, at the very least, the full implementation of the Leveson report. However, I believe the fundamental problem is not one of poor regulation, but that the media is almost entirely owned by big business individuals and conglomerates. As a journalist once put it in a letter to Der Spiegel, ‘Press freedom is the freedom of 200 rich people to express their opinion’.

A genuinely free press requires substantial media resources to be made available for genuine public use, under public ownership, control and accountability. I would support all political parties and trends being granted access to the media, perhaps in proportion to their support in the population as shown in elections. Then we would start to have a media that can provide accurate information and quality investigative journalism, one that can be accessed by minority points of view not just those of the establishment political parties.

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