Ed Miliband and Harriet Harman today called for cross-party consensus on the Leveson Inquiry’s recommendations for future press regulation, suggesting also that the Inquiry examine media ownership.
Labour leader Miliband said he felt News International’s share of 34 per cent of the national newspaper market was “too much”, and suggested limiting media ownership to 20 to 30 per cent. “More than 30 per cent is worrying,” he said, adding that his aim was “plurality”.
Miliband said it was good for democracy to have plurality in the market, stressing that his intention was not “to stifle one organisation or another”, but instead that “one organisation does not exercise overweening power.”
Harman, Miliband’s deputy, stressed the “opportunity” presented by the Inquiry into press standards, which is due to report this autumn. “People want this sorted,” she said of the press malpractice that led to the Inquiry being launched last summer.
“They want a strong free press and want it to act fairly, not a dressed-up version of the status quo.”
She said a new system of redress that operated on a voluntary opt-in basis — similar to the Press Complaints Commission — would be “pointless”. Miliband suggested the need for a body independent of press and politicians and stressed he was “conscious of the limits of statutory recognition”, while still suggesting a kind of statutory support might be needed for a reformed PCC.
Both emphasised the need for cross-party support of Leveson’s recommendations, a topic Leveson himself alluded to yesterday in stressing his desire to avoid “inter-party politics and the politics of personality”.
“The default position for us as politicians must be to try our hardest to use the recommendations of the Inquiry to provide a framework for the future,” Miliband said.
Miliband gave an impassioned defence of press freedom, reminding the judge that his recommendations should protect it.
He highlighted what he saw as a “mutual culture of contempt” between the press and politicians, and that we were a “long way” from the ideal of a relationship of mutual respect between the two.
He told the Inquiry there had been a “failure of the establishment” not to have spoken out sooner on abuses by the press, noting that there had been a sense of fear, anxiety and unwillingness to do so.
He compared calling for a public inquiry into phone hacking in July 2011 to “crossing the Rubicon”, suggesting it would have been seen by News International as “an act of war”.
“In retrospect I wish I would have said it earlier,” Miliband said.
The Inquiry continues tomorrow with evidence from deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and Scottish first minister Alex Salmond.
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