21st June 2024

Playing politics with the media? The 2024 general election and the parties’ manifesto

By Callum Galbraith & Sarah Daniel

In the run-up to the 2024 UK general election, the three main parties launched their manifestos. Here, we look at how the three main political parties have pitched their manifestos in respect of media law.

Despite Labour’s David Lammy saying earlier this month that Labour will take a hard stance on Russian oligarchs who attempt to bring strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) by reintroducing legislation against SLAPPs (e.g. as initially introduced by Labour MP Wayne David and supported by the Conservatives), the Labour party’s manifesto is silent on specific media-focused policies. The Liberal Dems conversely however set out their commitment to passing anti-SLAPP legislation in their 2024 manifesto.

Leveson 2 (the second stage of the Leveson Inquiry into the relationship between journalists and the police, which did not take place immediately after the first phase due to the need to avoid prejudicing criminal investigations) continues to be a divisive topic, despite there being little realistic prospect of it being revived after it was abandoned by the Conservative government is 2018. The Conservative Party reconfirmed their position by asserting themselves to be “a strong defender of freedom of speech and freedom of the press” and reiterated their opposition to any attempt to “bring forward Leveson 2 or re-open the Royal Charter on self-regulation of the press”, as well as pledging to introduce “a new complaints process for the BBC so the BBC does not mark its own homework”. Conversely, the Liberal Democrats support “independent, Leveson-compliant regulation to ensure privacy, quality, diversity and choice in both print and online media” and stated their intention to “proceed with Part Two of the Leveson Inquiry”. Labour, whilst again silent on the matter in its manifesto, at the end of last year indicated that the party was no longer committed to the second phase of the Leveson Inquiry into press standards.

Elsewhere in the parties’ manifestos, the three main parties recognise the need to continue to regulate unlawful and offensive material online. The Conservatives, who introduced the Online Safety Act, have promised to legislate to create new offences for spiking, the creation of sexualised deepfake images and taking intimate images without consent. The Liberal Democrats meanwhile promise to create a new Online Crime Agency to “tackle illegal content and activity online, such as personal fraud, revenge porn and threats and incitement to violence on social media”.  Labour make a vague promise (and the only explicit reference to “media” in its entire manifesto) to “explore further measures to keep everyone safe online, particularly when using social media”.

There is no reference in the Conservative manifesto to repealing the Human Rights Act 1998 which has been regularly mooted (particularly in the context of immigration). Such a reform would no doubt have a seismic effect on the media law landscape across multiple areas.

Artificial Intelligence is mentioned in all three manifestos. Labour propose to set up a new Regulatory Innovation Office to address the “dramatic development of new technologies” and to “help regulators update regulation, speed up approval timelines, and co-ordinate issues that span existing boundaries”. Labour also pledge to “ensure the safe development and use of AI models by introducing binding regulation on the handful of companies developing the most powerful AI models and by banning the creation of sexually explicit deepfakes”. Whilst Labour focuses on the potential safety concerns of AI, the Conservatives focus on the commercial opportunities of AI by promising to invest £1.5 billion to take advantage of AI’s potential. The party does, however, also briefly refer to the need to “support research into [AI’s] safe and responsible use”. The Liberal Democrats similarly refer to their intention to create a regulatory framework for AI that “promotes innovation” but also “ensures the use of personal data and AI is unbiased, transparent and accurate, and respects the privacy of innocent people”.

As we approach the general election, we will continue to provide updates on the parties’ positions on all topics media-related including press freedom, social media and AI. In reality, it seems likely that there will be little emphasis placed on media reform and that we will need to wait and see what the next Government’s attitude is towards the balance between freedom of expression and the right to privacy.

Hamlins’ Media Disputes department is one of the largest and most successful Media Disputes teams in the UK and is widely recognised as an advisor of choice for both public and private figures seeking advice in relation to defamation, reputation management, pre-publication libel and privacy law. If you would like to find out more about how Hamlins can help you, please get in touch.

Playing politics with the media? The 2024 general election and the parties’ manifesto

Have a question? Contact Callum

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