Media Standards and Media Regulation — Motion to Take Note
Lord Inglewood (Conservative)
My Lords, I begin my few remarks by joining other speakers who have thanked the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, for introducing this debate. I must declare an interest as the chairman of the CN Group, a regional media company based in Cumbria.
As the noble Baroness said in her elegant introduction, I also chair the Select Committee on Communications and, as she said, just before the summer break we debated our report on the future of investigative journalism. I do not propose to go over anything in that document, other than to draw attention to our discussion of the issues thrown up by journalists breaking the law-they contend, in the public interest-and our conclusions, which are very similar to those reached independently by the Director of Public Prosecutions. Indeed, the committee may come back to a number of those issues.
Currently, the committee is working on a report on convergence which, as my noble friends Lord Grade and Lord Stoneham pointed out, will throw up a number of difficult questions of regulation. At this stage, the problem seems to be getting bigger and more difficult, so I shall not add any comments on that at this point.
I have always taken the view that, in general, people are basically decent. Although our ideas and definitions vary, we all want to live in a world and society where, by and large, things are what they seem to be. As for the media, people expect that what is sold to them as news or comment on news is not incompatible with the facts underlying the story and concerns things of significance.
The media, certainly in this country, are not merely private fiefdoms for their paymasters, owners, editors or journalists to promulgate whatever they like. In some way, that is analogous to the expectation that advertisements should have some recognisable relationship with the product being promoted and its attributes. Indeed, in all civilised societies, constraints are placed on individuals' freedom of action to protect the legitimate and proper interests of other people and to stop them being harmed gratuitously. Because there has been widespread concern about those issues, regulation above and beyond the general law has been introduced to surround the media. After all, the purpose of regulation is to hold the ring and ensure that trust is embedded in the institutions and organisations affected.
The current crisis-for that is what I think it is-has caused the public to believe that regulation in respect of the media, in all its various forms, is not working properly. We must not intellectualise this too much-we must not be too clever about it-because if we try to do that, we miss the fundamental point. I am sure that there is a widespread feeling across the country, regardless of the underlying truth of the details of some of the propositions, that things have gone awry.
As a matter of principle, it is essential that the Government and Parliament-which is different from the Government-are kept as far apart from the detailed regulation of the media as possible. It is one of the consequences and characteristics of the crisis that we are in that both the Government and Parliament are not the subject of widespread trust at present. The problem is compounded when we realise that the press and the media more widely are equally no longer fully trusted. While I believe that we must not overstate the case, there is real scepticism of regulation in whatever form it may come because it is felt variously that on occasions it is less than completely impartial, that it has no real teeth, or both.
It all boils down to a lack of confidence and trust. Whatever the outcome of the current debate and the discontent through which we are going, no amount of changing the regulatory architecture will help by itself, nor will changes in the modus operandi of those engaged in the sector, unless that trust and confidence is restored. Everything boils down to that, and whatever changes come-and changes must come, but let us not forget that there is more than one way of skinning a dead cat-unless that trust is restored, our current nationwide discontent with the media and of the media will remain. I do not believe that to be a healthy state of affairs for a free country since a plural, confident, free but fair media is a defining characteristic of the kind of country we want the United Kingdom to be.