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Media: Press Sustainability

Volume 790: debated on Thursday 22 March 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the recently launched review of press sustainability in the United Kingdom will have the power to call for evidence; whether all such evidence received will be published; and whether all meetings held as part of the review will be public.

My Lords, the Cairncross review into the sustainability of the national and local press is being led by an external chair, Dame Frances Cairncross, with support from an advisory panel. It is not a statutory inquiry and will therefore not have the statutory powers to compel witnesses to give evidence, nor will it be required to hold meetings in public. Dame Frances will determine the process for gathering evidence in due course.

I am obliged to the Minister and congratulate him on his ability to switch effortlessly from subject to subject overnight; it is almost legendary. I welcome the review, and congratulate the department on its distinguished choice of chair and on assembling what looks like a knowledgeable and expert advisory panel. I am sorry that the evidence is not going to be published automatically and that the hearings will not be in public, but I hope that the chair will see the wisdom of doing that and look forward to seeing how events develop. Does the Minister agree that, given that the aim of the review is to secure high-quality journalism, the remit is oddly framed with its focus on the market environment and on consumers rather than citizens? Given the recent news, will he confirm that section 1.5 of the remit will allow the review to investigate and report on the ways in which social media have clearly been influencing opinion ahead of elections and referenda? If not, who will look at that?

My Lords, the review will examine the role and impact not only of digital search engines but of social media platforms and other digital content aggregation platforms which have an impact on press sustainability.

Will the concerns and needs of the local press, so vital for local democracy, be prominent in the work of the review?

Ultimately, the scope of the review will be a matter for the chair. It is going to be an independent, expert review but clearly it is intended to address the issue of the local press, where we have seen such impact from digital media in the past 10 years.

Does the Minister accept that the press will not be able to go back to its old role of doing news in small bits? It will need to do a deeper analysis and to focus on what is true news and go deeper into it. Some newspapers are beginning to do that—not before time. Will he take on board the importance of the British public being able to get in-depth and thoughtful news, as well as instant news? The two are important, but they are different.

My Lords, we fully recognise and accept the importance of such developments and, indeed, it is one means by which we can address the insidious development of fake news.

I am sure that the noble and learned Lord is aware that it is five years since Parliament endorsed the Leveson royal charter. It is some progress to have the sustainability review, but is he confident that press regulation is really working?

Will the review look at the initial training of journalists and their continual professional development, to ensure that they get all the support that they need?

My Lords, have Her Majesty’s Government made any assessment of the funding of Impress by Mr Max Mosley?

We recognise that Impress is now recognised by the PRP and that some but not many newspapers at a national level have engaged with it. We also recognise the importance of IPSO and, indeed, of those newspapers, such as the Guardian and the Financial Times, which have instigated their own independent review positions.

My Lords, I declare an interest as someone who was a director of a local media company until a month ago, when it sold up. Could my noble and learned friend please explain to the House what in fact the Government mean by sustainability in this context?

We have to identify a model by which the local and national press can continue to deliver what is required of an independent and informed news source. That has been the subject of change, clearly; we have passed from the days when a piece of journalism could be accompanied by an advertisement and, therefore, self-sustaining. We have to look at how we can sustain our media in future.

My Lords, will the Minister not consider that his one-word reply to my noble friend Lord Razzall holds only till the next newspaper scandal hits us? Will he not accept that we still have a media self-regulating in its own self-interest, and that the abandonment of Leveson 2 is a massive missed opportunity, given that data is now today’s headline?

My Lords, will the Minister comment on the excellent scheme that is the levy on the BBC for local democratic reporting, and whether some of the very large international platforms should not have a levy on them to ensure that we can expand such a scheme?

I entirely agree with the noble Lord’s observations with regard to the BBC scheme and its outreach to local news. The extension to a levy has been considered and is being looked at.

My Lords, my question is further to the very important point made by my noble friend Lord Lexden. Will Dame Frances give at least equal attention to the local press, which is the lifeblood of many local communities?

Dame Frances will determine the scope and depth of her review but, clearly, that will include the important element of the local press.