Originally published at: https://decentered.co.uk/labours-media-policy-a-call-for-clarity-and-public-engagement/
As the Labour Party gears up for the next general election, questions are emerging about their plans for the regulation and provision of media. While the party’s draft policy platform for 2024 offers a comprehensive roadmap for a potential Keir Starmer government, it is notably silent on the specifics of media regulation and provision. This silence leaves a void that social and civic society groups, such as Decentered Media and Better Media, are keen to fill.
Decentered Media and Better Media are just some voices advocating for a transformation of media policy. We are arguing for a shift towards citizenship and community cohesion, as part of a comprehensive devolution of media policy. One that empowers local voices and fosters a more inclusive media landscape. However, without clear policy direction from the Labour Party, these groups are left in a state of uncertainty, unsure of how to plan for potential changes in public policy towards media if there is a change of government.
The Labour Party’s current policy platform focuses on a wide range of issues, from digital and online regulation to cybersecurity, digital education and skills, and artificial intelligence. Yet, it does not specifically address the devolution of media regulation and provision. This omission is particularly glaring given the party’s commitment to a significant expansion of economic devolution in England. If the Keir Starmer’s government is going to reform the constitution and bring forward proposals to significantly decentralise public policy and democracy, then surely this has got to include the reform of our media along similar lines?
The party’s silence on media policy is even more puzzling when we consider the broader political context. The government’s levelling-up agenda, for instance, is a prime opportunity to rethink media policy. Devolving media regulation and provision could play a crucial role in levelling up, fostering local media ecosystems that reflect and respond to the needs and interests of local communities. Yet, the connection between deregulation, devolution, levelling-up and media policy remains unexplored.
The Labour Party’s approach to media policy also raises questions about the role of private commercial interests. The party’s commitment to robust regulation that protects people from online harms and holds social media and technology companies accountable is commendable. Labour has been silent, however, on the issues of the BBC’s cuts to local radio in England One policy can’t point in one direction, and other policies point in the other.
It’s crucial, then, that any discussions about public policy towards media take place in the public domain, rather than behind closed doors with media corporations. The Labour Party has an opportunity to lead a much-needed public conversation about the future of media in the UK, especially as we shit into a post-scarcity age and capacity limits on broadcasting are reduced.
By engaging with social and civic society groups, the party can develop a media policy that is not only robust and forward-looking, but also inclusive and democratic. The BBC and Ofcom, for example, need leadership in identifying what their public purpose will be, and what social and civic challenges they will be asked to take on. Community media has an essential role in any purpose-driven policies as well. It is time for the Labour Party to break its silence on media policy and bring these discussions into the open. The future of our pluralistic media landscape depends on it.