Stourbridge MP Margot James gave constituents just fourteen days notice of a deadline to submit their views of the UK’s media to a Government review that may decide to recommend public funding of national newspapers.
The tax-payer subsidy plan is among proposals being considered by the Cairncross Review, a low-key substitute for the controversially shelved ‘Leveson 2’ inquiry into Press standards.
Ms James, who in Parliament dismissed as ‘inappropriate’ Lord Chief Justice Leveson’s insistent call for a second major inquiry into fresh evidence of corruption involving the media, left it until nine weeks into the 11-week Cairncross Review to Tweet details of how Stourbridge people can take part.
The start of the Cairncross review – headed by former business journalist Dame Frances Cairncross – was signalled on a Government website on June 28 and her work began in early July, continuing largely through the Parliamentary summer recess and with an end to accepting submissions set for September 14.
Industry insiders have indicated that the Cairncross review’s central remit to assess the ‘financial sustainability’ of the UK’s national newspapers will lead to Government approval for publicly financed subsidies to daily papers that have been hit hard by phone hacking and perjury scandals, falling circulation and reduced profits.
Ms James made no mention of the review in her three newsletters to constituents since the review began. Then at the end of August 2018 she reTweeted a post from her Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) that highlighted ‘the need to protect our high quality journalism’.
The Stourbridge MP added: ‘This is so important. I would encourage everyone with an interest to express their views’. (An extract of the terms of reference is at the foot of the story, and it links direct to the Review submission website)
At the time of Ms James’ public slapping down of Lord Leveson’s call for Part Two of the inquiry to go ahead, she told the House of Commons that the Cairncross Review would be ‘forward-looking as opposed to examining past practices, and will be looking at the challenges the press industry faces in monetising its online content and the implications for the sector’s sustainability.” Her remarks came before Leveson 2 was officially abandoned.
The original Leveson inquiry was set up by former Prime Minister David Cameron in response to public outrage over newspaper actions that included the hacking of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone and and a series of celebrity ‘stings’.
Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry was televised live as it trawled through evidence from witnesses that included global media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Mr Murdoch’s News of the World newspaper was shut down because of the Milly Dowler scandal. Four former prime ministers were among scores of other participants including hacking victims.
Lord Leveson’s subsequent 2,000 page report led to the replacement of the ‘failed’ Press Complaints Commission and its findings were accepted by David Cameron. But he rejected making recommended changes in the law to protect people from newspapers’ excesses.
Though David Cameron pledged to back a ‘Leveson 2’ into issues of public concern that had emerged late in the first inquiry’s life or had been the subject of ongoing legal actions, the Government subsequently said early in 2018 that it was no longer necessary and would be ‘too expensive’.
In sharp contrast to Leveson’s judicial and inquisitorial framework, Dame Frances’s review has listened in private to a hand-picked panel of advisors drawn from journalism, academia, advertising and technology. It includes Peter Wright, a former editor of The Mail on Sunday and for several years director of the now-discredited and disbanded Press Complaints Commission.
According to the review’s terms of reference, its final report and recommendations are determined by Dame Frances. Criticism of the review has included the lack of any ground-level local newspaper representation or members of the public.
The review’s terms of reference also specifically rule out the addressing of ‘politically motivated disinformation and propaganda in national newspapers’.
As this report was being prepared for publication, the website page that detailed how to submit views on the state of the Press was still available here.
Footnote: Public money is already being channelled to mostly large private local newspaper groups in the form of a network of Local Democracy reporters that is funded by BBC licence money at the direction of the Government to make up for staff cutbacks and newspaper closures.
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