Friday 17 April 2015

What the manifestos promise

This week saw the launch of several party manifestos as the general election campaign gathers pace.

These manifestos act as a guide to the policies each party plans to introduce in the five years it is in power.  They are useful in making a decision on where to cast your vote and, theoretically, make a party accountable although in practice if the party you voted for takes power and doesn’t follow through with its manifesto promises your only redress is not voting for them next time.

With many commentators predicting that no single party will gain an overall majority and that we can expect another term of coalition government, manifestos become effectively calling cards for the other parties. They set out the red lines and areas for negotiation.

The parties will go through the manifestos and produce an agreement setting out a programme for government, as the Lib Dems and Conservatives did in 2010.

This is what the main party manifestos have to say about their policies on the media, digital Britain and the BBC:

We will support our media

A free media is the bedrock of an open society.  We will deliver a comprehensive review of the BBC Royal Charter, ensuring it delivers value for money for the licence fee payer, while maintaining a world class service and supporting our creative industries.

That is why we froze the BBC licence fee and will keep it frozen, pending Charter renewal.

And we will continue to ‘top-slice’ the licence fee for digital infrastructure to support superfast broadband across the country.

We will defend press freedom

We will continue to defend hard-won liberties and the operation of a free press.  But alongside the media’s rights comes a clear responsibility, which is why we set up the public, judge-led Leveson Inquiry in response to the phone-hacking scandal, created a new watchdog by Royal Charter and legislated to toughen media libel laws.

Because the work of the free press is so important we will offer explicit protection for the role of journalists via the British Bill of Rights and we will ban the police from accessing journalists’ phone records to identify whistle-blowers and other sources without prior judicial approval. 

Local newspapers are an important source of information for local communities and a vital part of a healthy democracy.  To support them as they adapt to new technology and changing circumstances, we will consult on the introduction of a business rates relief for local newspapers in England.

We will support our creative industries

The creative industries have become our fastest-growing economic sector, contributing nearly £77 billion to the UK economy – driven in part by the tax incentives for films, theatre, video games, animation and orchestras we introduced. Our support for the film industry has resulted in great British films and encouraged Hollywood’s finest to flock to the UK.   We will continue these reliefs, with a tax credit for children’s television next year, and expand them when possible.

We will protect intellectual property by continuing to require internet service providers to block sites that carry large amounts of illegal content, including their proxies.  And we will build on progress made under our voluntary anti-piracy projects to warn internet users when they are breaching copyright

We will stop children's exposure to harmful sexualised content online, by requiring age verification for access to all sites containing pornographic material and age-rating for all music videos.

We will work to ensure that search engines do not link to the worst-offending sites.  

We live in the information age and we know that information is power.  But how should information be controlled?  What information should be available and to whom?

The Green Party supports a world of open, freely flowing information.  We don’t want disproportionate or unaccountable surveillance or censorship.  We want a transparent state but we want control over the data that our digital lives create.  We need copyright laws that reward creators but that are consistent with digital technologies.  Above all we want democratic political control of this technology.  We would….

  • Support and protect internet freedeom
  • Limit the censoring or takedown of content or activity to exceptional circumstances, clearly set out within a comprehensive legal framework.
  • Introduce more satisfactory law on so-called malicious comments made on social media than the blanket and crude section 127 of the Communications Act 2003.
  • Tighten the rules on cross-media ownership and ensure that no individual or company owns more than 20% of a media market.
  • Support the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics and for the cross-party Royal charter.  But if this is to supported by all the major newspapers we will support legislation to implement the Leveson system of independent press self-regulation.
  • Maintain the BBC as the primary public service broadcaster, free of government interference, with funding guaranteed in real terms in statute to prevent government interference.
  • Ensure that all have digital access and give BT and other public telecommunications operators an obligation to provide affordable high-speed broadband-capable infrastructure to every household and small business.  This in particular will encourage video-conferencing, helping to reduce both business and family travel.
  • Strengthen controls on advertising directed at children.

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.  We remain strongly committed to the implementation of the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry. We expect the industry to establish a mechanism for independent self-regulation, which delivers proper redress for individuals, as set out in the Royal Charter, and agreed by all parties in Parliament. We made a promise to victims of the phone hacking scandal. We stand by that promise and will keep it.

Our system of public service broadcasting is one of Britain’s great strengths.  The BBC makes a vital contribution to the richness of our cultural life, and we will ensure that it continues to do so while delivering value for money. 

We will also commit to keeping Channel 4 in public ownership, so it continues to produce vital public content.

The culture of everyday sexism will be declining, with young people taught in school about respect in relationships and sexual consent. Online, people will no longer be worried that the government is monitoring their every keystroke: a Digital Bill of Rights will have enshrined enduring principles of privacy and helped keep the internet open.
  •     Protect the independence of the BBC while ensuring the Licence Fee does not rise faster than inflation, maintain Channel 4 in public ownership and protect the funding and editorial independence of Welsh language broadcasters.
  •      Support growth in the creative industries, including video gaming, by continuing to support the Creative Industries Council, promoting creative skills, supporting modern and flexible patent, copyright and licensing rules, and addressing the barriers to finance faced by small creative businesses
We share the hope of Lord Justice Leveson that the incentives for the press to sign up to genuinely independent self-regulation will succeed. But if, in the judgment of the Press Recognition Panel, after 12 months of operation, there is significant non-cooperation by newspaper publishers, then – as Leveson himself concluded – Parliament will need to act, drawing on a range of options including the legislative steps necessary to ensure that independent self-regulation is delivered. Where possible, we would seek to do this on the same cross-party basis that achieved the construction of the Leveson scheme by the Royal Charter.

Securing liberty online
  •     Safeguard the essential freedom of the internet and back net neutrality, the principle that internet service providers should enable access to all lawful content and applications regardless of the source, and without favouring or blocking particular products or websites.
  •       Make it clear that online services have a duty to provide age-appropriate policies, guidance and support to the children and young people who use their services.

We will devolve broadcasting to Wales and implement recommendations on broadcasting made by Plaid Cymru to the Silk Commission.  These include establishing a BBC Trust for Wales as part of a more federal BBC  within the UK.  Trustees would be appointed by the Welsh Government and the appointment process including public hearings held by the National Assembly for Wales. 

Responsibility for S4C, the world’s only Welsh language channel, would transfer to the National Assembly for Wales, as would the funding for the channel that is currently with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.  We will ensure that S4C is adequately funded and that the channel maintains editorial independence.  Again, the Welsh Government should appoint the board members of the S4C Authority following public hearings. 

We support establishing a new Welsh language  multimedia service to operate online, on radio and other platforms, in order  to reflect the needs of Welsh language audiences and improve current affairs coverage in Wales. 
Ofcom’s office in Wales should have greater powers, including the authority to take licensing decisions.  The members of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Wales should be appointed by the Welsh Government.  This would be best achieved by the federalization of the work of Ofcom in a UK context.

We will give local newspapers the status of ‘community assets’ so that owners could not close them without communities having the opportunity to keep their paper.  It is important for there to be a plurality of opinions and information sources.  We will oppose any reduction in Welsh produced news and non-news content in our media.

A flourishing media environment and creative sector.

We believe that responsibility for broadcasting in Scotland should transfer from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament and we will support moves to more devolved arrangements for the BBC with greater powers and funding for the different national and regional broadcasting areas, such as BBC Scotland.

We believe that the licence fee should be retained with any replacement system, which should be based primarily on the ability to pay, in place by the end of the next BBC Charter period.

BBC Scotland should receive a fairer share of BBC income, reflecting more accurately the licence fee revenue raised here in Scotland.  This would provide a boost of over £100 million, which we believe will provide important new opportunities for production companies and the creative sector in Scotland.

The Scottish Government and Parliament should have a substantial role at all stages in the review of the BBC Charter and we will work to ensure that any new governance arrangements for the BBC better reflect Scotland’s interests.

It should also be for the Scottish Government to decide which sporting events in Scotland should be included in the list of these that are free to view in Scotland.

Regulation of print media is already devolved.  The Scottish Parliament chose, on a cross party basis, to support the UK Government’s actions to implement Leveson.  We will consider carefully the results of the first year review and work with other parties, in Scotland and Westminster, to ensure effective regulation of the media on a non-political basis.

We also recognise the importance of improving access to the internet, especially for some of our more remote or disadvantaged communities.  In government we are working to maximise the availability of high-speed broadband across Scotland and are also providing funding of £1.5 million to increase free provision of Wi-Fi in public buildings.

Our aim is to deliver a future-proofed infrastructure that will establish world-class digital connectivity across Scotland by 2020 including tackling the digital divide.  That is why we are investing in Superfast Broadband, so that at least 95% of premises across Scotland will be able to access fibre broadband by the end of 2017.

The UKIP manifesto does not specifically address media policies.

However in its pre-election Policies for People document the party says it will “review the BBC Licence Fee with a view to its reduction. Prosecution of non-payments of the Licence Fee would be taken out of the criminal sphere and made a civil offence.”

Many of us will be attending hustings events over the next week to hear what our local candidates have to offer.

In our most recent newsletter we included some suggestions of things to ask candidates about our particular areas of concern.  Many people have been in contact about these so here are they are again – we hope you will find them useful.

  • What’s the future for television regulation – particularly the role of Ofcom?

  • If you were elected what would you do to ensure that broadcasting standards are improved?
  • Do you think that further legislation is needed to ensure that children are protected from accessing inappropriate content on their computers, games consoles and mobile phones?

  • As the situation currently stands children are able to access post watershed television content online without adequate protection.  Would you support legislation to protect them and make post-watershed content on catch-up TV something which is opted into rather than opted out of?

  • Do you think the proliferation of online pornography is a problem and, if so, how is this best dealt with?

  • Do you feel that children are being prematurely sexualised and, if so, how would you propose to tackle this?

  • Currently the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) is a self regulating industry body.  Do you think it should be made accountable to Parliament in its decisions?

  • Do you think there is a need for reform of the current obscenity law which defines obscenity as ‘that which is likely to deprave and corrupt’ to a more specific definition?

  • ATVOD (the Authority for Television on Demand) wants all websites hosting pornographic content to have robust age verification tools in place.  They have called for urgent legislation so that banks and other payment processors are prohibited from handling fees for services from UK citizens to unregulated sites.  If you were elected would you support this proposal?

Thursday 16 April 2015

Tell us your stories


Anthropologists tell us that storytelling is central to human existence and that it is common to every known culture.  We use stories to make sense of our world and to share that understanding with others.  

In our campaign against harmful media and its effects it is sometimes hard to offer a visual aid to illustrate the problems we are highlighting; something that would speak as powerfully as the models of slave ships and the manacles that Wilberforce used so effectively in the fight to abolish the slave trade. 

What we can offer are the powerful stories of those who have been effected by their exposure to or use of such material. 

Last spring we were delighted to facilitate an event which enabled a group of under 30s to go into parliament and talk to MPs about the impact that growing up with the most extreme material easily available to them at the click of a mouse.  The conference was such a success because of the powerful stories we heard; young men and women casting off the constraints of embarrassment and fear to sound the alarm for the sake of their generation and the next.

Their stories are our most potent weapon.

Similarly, it was the personal stories of the effect of the media on children in her care which motivated Mary Whitehouse to begin campaigning.

We are looking for more stories from those who have experienced challenging media situations with their children or grandchildren.  Stories that will give a human face to our campaign.  Stories that we can use to make our case to politicians, regulators and potential funders of the projects on which we are working with the Children & Families Media Education Trust.  Stories like that of Mrs W whose eleven year old son was shown hard-core pornography on the phone of a friend during a lesson at school.  Stories like the one of Mrs G whose daughter became addicted to pornography which she accessed on her phone using the unfiltered wi-fi at a friend’s house.

Do you have a story which you could share with us? 

If you have a story to tell please do get in touch so that we present your experience to those who are able to make a difference.

Social media setting the agenda

The way that internet content is created and used has changed; in the past websites were static and users were limited to the passive viewing of content but today we are able to interact and collaborate with each other as creators of user-generated content in a virtual community – sometimes referred to as  Web 2.0.

Social media have played a huge part in this and, looking back over recent news I’m struck by how many stories concern, or are shaped by, social media.  For example:

  • Gabby shames Twitter sexist
  • Twitter changes rules to ban ‘revenge porn’
  • Facebook removes the ‘feeling fat’ status update, replacing it with ‘stuffed’
  • Pupils to be taught about how to deal with dangers of sexting, revenge porn and cyber-bullying
  • Facebook restricts violent video clips and photos
  • Facebook revamps its takedown guidelines

Some of these stories illustrate the challenge of dealing with this brave, new, interactive world.  However social media have also brought us exciting new opportunities. 

Social media are expected to be more important than ever in the general election campaign and they provide us with opportunities to enter into direct dialogue with the candidates who wish to represent us and participate in political debate.

Politicians, local and national media are increasingly using social media to gauge public opinion so it’s an ideal opportunity to make your views part of a wider conversation.

If you are a Twitter user you could follow your candidate and ask them about the issues which are important to you.  You can also use Twitter to engage in political debate in both regional and national media. 

Many candidates are also on Facebook and asking questions via a candidate's Facebook page can result in a more immediate response than email or post and also allow a longer conversation to develop. 

If you’re not a social media user and would like to engage with your local candidates in advance of this election why not create an account – you need only use it for the general election period if you wish.

You can find out who your candidates are and whether they are on Twitter or Facebook here.

We included a list of questions you might like to ask candidates in our most recent newsletter which you can see here.