Digital Economy Bill - Committee (4th Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 8th February 2017.

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Photo of Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve Crossbench 9:00 pm, 8th February 2017

My Lords, I support this amendment. I remember well—and the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam has reminded us of it—that, in 2003, we had quite dramatic discussions in your Lordships’ House about the dual duties of Ofcom to the citizen and to the consumer. There was a bit of a wobble after Ofcom was set up, but since then it has properly seen itself as defending these two separate interests and not, as was initially suggested, merging them into the interests of a fictitious character called the citizen-consumer. That was an unfortunate, but brief, episode.

I believe the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, hit the nail on the head when he said that this pair of amendments is highly congruent with the Government’s policy. Not merely has the Prime Minister spoken about acting in the interests of “you rather than the few”, she has also started to refer to “issues of corporate governance”. This is basically what this is about—the standards that we think are relevant in corporate governance.

This has been a very unhappy decade in which there have been failures of corporate governance in many sectors. I am a member of the Banking Standards Board, looking at the culture of the banks. I read every day about this culture and realise how vital is the requirement that only those who have passed fit and proper person tests come into positions of leadership and influence in the banking sector. I realise how important this also is for the media sector—indeed, it is perhaps more important.

As we have seen clearly in the last few weeks, with the presidential campaign in the United States, the media have changed hugely in this decade. We can get spiralling misinformation that is extremely difficult to stem once it gets a hold in social media; once it spreads with the rapidity which the greediest of proprietors could never have imagined. In this world, more than ever, serious corporate governance has to take account of the ethics, as well as the law, of the fitness and propriety of leadership, as well as the adequacy of regulation. I support the proposal that Ofcom get a clear grip on the fitness and propriety of those who lead the broadcasting industries.