Three questions about the media that politicians must be asked
It’s time journalists asked party leaders where they stand on media issues, because decisions of huge importance will fall to the next government and voters have a right to know what politicians will do.
Newspaper people will never raise these matters – their bosses prefer to see media affairs settled in shady deals – but the broadcast journalists, the Marrs, Pestons, Cricks and others, should be asking leading politicians questions like the following:
1. Given the history of wrongdoing at Rupert Murdoch's companies in the UK and US, do you personally believe he is a fit and proper person to own a large additional slice of our national media?
2. Given that a Supreme Court ruling last month means only millionaires can now defend their rights against newspapers, will you swiftly implement the Leveson scheme for low-cast arbitration that Parliament approved in 2013?
3. Will you launch the delayed part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry, designed to establish how far current newspaper managements, including Murdoch’s, were responsible for industrial-scale lawbreaking by their journalists, and how far they have corrupted the police?
Conservatives in particular should have to answer these questions, given that most of the national press is backing the Conservatives in the expectation that victory will give them unprecedented power and freedom from accountability.
If the newspapers get what they want from this election, after all, it is no exaggeration to say that they will be able to write whatever they choose about almost anyone, without consequence. No regulator will inhibit them, and no law. The lies and intrusion will be unstoppable.
Where until recently at least a few ordinary people could sue newspapers thanks to no-win-no-fee deals with solicitors, the Supreme Court has now closed that avenue. There is no legal aid, and without the Leveson reforms, no cheap arbitration. So be prepared for post-truth Britain, run by the vicious lie factories of the Mail and the Sun.
Allowing Murdoch complete control of Sky, moreover, will strengthen his platform to dominate British television, so that, with Conservative allies, he will make faster progress in dismembering the BBC and neutering Ofcom. His explicit aim, after all, is to Fox-ify British television.
And if the press can kill off Leveson 2 they will be able to bury all their past wrongdoing without ever having to tell the public who gave all the orders. Remember this was wrongdoing from which hundreds, even thousands of innocent people have suffered.
Brexit is obviously important and needs to be discussed. And the same is true of poverty, the NHS, Northern Ireland and Scotland. What Brexit has taught us, however, is that rational debate on important matters is too easily drowned by the reckless, dishonest ranting of the corporate national press.
For the sake of democracy, the political parties contesting this election should be under pressure to say what they will do about it.