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Labour Party Conference 2023 Reforming a fast-evolving media landscape

As the traditional hard-copy newspaper industry declines and digital content evolves in ways we could not have predicted, the demand to hold the media accountable becomes more pressing, writes TONY BURKE

AT the Labour Party conference in Liverpool this week Media North (previously the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom) will be calling on the next Labour government to set out plans for media reform and to push the issue up the agenda within the Labour Party.

Media North argue it is time for Labour to recognise the sector we call “the media” includes not just newspapers, magazines and traditional broadcasters but involves the rapidly expanding digital media — including content providers, the use of artificial intelligence to produce content, the peddling of “fake news” (which acts as an echo chamber) and potential mergers in the telecoms and communications sector such as the proposed merger of Vodaphone and Three giving control to the Chinese CK Group, owner of Three which has links to the Chinese government and the Conservative Party.

Fewer people are now directly dependent on reading the mainstream media to obtain news and information. Sales of national and regional titles continue to fall as more people rely on reading news and opinion from content providers who provide click-bait stories designed to find their way online and increasingly via podcasts — some of which are excellent — but some of which are increasingly dominated by right-wing ideologues.

Print titles are closing or are hollowed out. Printing operations are being merged — as we saw last week with the decision by Murdoch’s News UK and the Daily Mail to merge printing operations resulting in all national newspaper printing being handled by only two conglomerates.

Although fewer people now read daily and regional papers, they still have considerable power over our daily lives because of the way in which the dominant Conservative-supporting press has largely become the propaganda arm of government.

Media North argues these newspapers and digital media, not Parliament, are the forums in which policy is promoted, decided and legitimised.

In a democracy, the press is supposed to hold the powerful to account on the public’s behalf.

In Britain, however, the right-wing media is itself one of the most powerful and unaccountable institutions in society with news and opinion shaped by the power which they wield.

The misinformation that the media routinely spreads has played a leading role in precipitating disasters from Brexit to Liz Truss, and unrestrained and unchallenged aggression designed to divide the country, threaten minorities, workers’ rights and trade unions, and invades the privacy of innocent members of the public making evidence-led policy making all but impossible.

In the past, it was reasonable to claim that the right-wing bias of much of the national press could be offset by the public service broadcasters, who are required by law to remain impartial. However, in recent years, the BBC (and to a certain extent Channel 4) has been browbeaten and destabilised by the government, with threats to end the licence fee or sell them off.

Meanwhile, the body meant to regulate commercial broadcasting, the Office of Communications (Ofcom), appears to have abandoned the impartiality requirements of its own Broadcasting Code.

It has done this by licencing the openly partisan channels TalkTV and GB News, with the latter being allowed to become the British equivalent of the ultra-right Fox News staffed by right-wing politicians disguised as presenters, including Nigel Farage, William Rees Mogg and Lee Anderson.

Media North believes wider awareness of the crucial importance that the media, including social media, plays in society is vital — as is support for a programme of fundamental media reform by a Labour government.

Our document Putting Media Reform At The Top Of The Political Agenda can be read www.mstar.link/MediaRef. Media North is looking to plan a conference in 2024.

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