Labour takes aim at Murdoch with new call for media ownership cap

Harriet Harman suggests a cap of 15 per cent on total ownership and calls for cross-party talks on the issue.

One of the omissions from the Leveson report was any detailed discussion of media ownership. The argument commonly made against state-backed regulation is that most of the abuses the inquiry was set up to examine, such as phone-hacking, bribery and the corruption of public officials, are already illegal. But, most obviously in the case of News International, the law has often proved feeble in the face of media pressure. At least one reason for this is NI's overweening dominance of the market; even after the closure of the News of the World, it still commands 34 per of newspaper circulation and, had it not been for the Milly Dowler phone-hacking revelations, it would almost certainly have acquired 100 per cent of BSkyB.

Labour will attempt to put the issue back on the agenda today when Harriet Harman delivers the Charles Wheeler Lecture on journalism at the University of Westminster. The shadow culture secretary will repeat the party's call for a cap of 30 per cent on newspaper market share and will propose one of 15 per cent for cross-media ownership, including broadcast and online. She will urge Maria Miller to establish a cross-party process to propose new regulation in time for the next election and will make it clear that she has Rupert Murdoch's empire in her sights. Here's an extract:

"The Leveson Inquiry focused on the complaints system. And the impunity which came from the lack of a robust, effective complaints system was undoubtedly a key part of the problem. But so too was something else in Leveson’s terms of reference which he was not able take forward in such depth. The invincibility that came with too much power concentrated in the hands of one man.

"Media monopoly matters in a democracy. The concentration of unaccountable media power distorts the political system. The media shapes how we see ourselves and how we see the world. In a democracy, the free flow of information, of different points of view, is crucial for open debate.

"Too much power in too few hands hinders proper debate. Plurality ensures that no media owner can exert such a damaging influence on public opinion and on policy makers. It ensures that no media company can have so much influence that it feels itself immune, above the rule of law. It ensures no private interest can set itself above the public interest.

"But we don’t have a proper regime for protecting against this. The system doesn’t work – its inadequacies and complexities were laid bare by the News Corp bid for the whole of BSkyB. And the system is out of date – this is an age of great change in the media, where we have print newspapers, broadcast media and new media, and a convergence of all three."

Of the proposed 15 per cent cap, Harman will say: "Enders Analysis have proposed a 15% limit and they include any medium of communication that stands between a creator of content and an audience.

"That is a good starting point for discussion. We all need to think about the exact figure, but this proposal draws a clear bright line and defines the media in a way that recognises the huge influence of new media players online."

While, for reasons that do not need to be stated, David Cameron may be reluctant to act, tackling media concentration would be popular with the public. An IPPR survey in May 2012 found that 73 per cent support a cap on the total share a single person or company can own, with 76 per cent supporting limits on newspaper ownership and 62 per cent wanting the number of papers a single owner can hold to be restricted to two or less.

Rupert Murdoch's News International currently accounts for 34 per cent of the UK newspaper market. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Stability is essential to solve the pension problem

The new chancellor must ensure we have a period of stability for pension policymaking in order for everyone to acclimatise to a new era of personal responsibility in retirement, says 

There was a time when retirement seemed to take care of itself. It was normal to work, retire and then receive the state pension plus a company final salary pension, often a fairly generous figure, which also paid out to a spouse or partner on death.

That normality simply doesn’t exist for most people in 2016. There is much less certainty on what retirement looks like. The genesis of these experiences also starts much earlier. As final salary schemes fall out of favour, the UK is reaching a tipping point where savings in ‘defined contribution’ pension schemes become the most prevalent form of traditional retirement saving.

Saving for a ‘pension’ can mean a multitude of different things and the way your savings are organised can make a big difference to whether or not you are able to do what you planned in your later life – and also how your money is treated once you die.

George Osborne established a place for himself in the canon of personal savings policy through the introduction of ‘freedom and choice’ in pensions in 2015. This changed the rules dramatically, and gave pension income a level of public interest it had never seen before. Effectively the policymakers changed the rules, left the ring and took the ropes with them as we entered a new era of personal responsibility in retirement.

But what difference has that made? Have people changed their plans as a result, and what does 'normal' for retirement income look like now?

Old Mutual Wealth has just released. with YouGov, its third detailed survey of how people in the UK are planning their income needs in retirement. What is becoming clear is that 'normal' looks nothing like it did before. People have adjusted and are operating according to a new normal.

In the new normal, people are reliant on multiple sources of income in retirement, including actively using their home, as more people anticipate downsizing to provide some income. 24 per cent of future retirees have said they would consider releasing value from their home in one way or another.

In the new normal, working beyond your state pension age is no longer seen as drudgery. With increasing longevity, the appeal of keeping busy with work has grown. Almost one-third of future retirees are expecting work to provide some of their income in retirement, with just under half suggesting one of the reasons for doing so would be to maintain social interaction.

The new normal means less binary decision-making. Each choice an individual makes along the way becomes critical, and the answers themselves are less obvious. How do you best invest your savings? Where is the best place for a rainy day fund? How do you want to take income in the future and what happens to your assets when you die?

 An abundance of choices to provide answers to the above questions is good, but too much choice can paralyse decision-making. The new normal requires a plan earlier in life.

All the while, policymakers have continued to give people plenty of things to think about. In the past 12 months alone, the previous chancellor deliberated over whether – and how – to cut pension tax relief for higher earners. The ‘pensions-ISA’ system was mooted as the culmination of a project to hand savers complete control over their retirement savings, while also providing a welcome boost to Treasury coffers in the short term.

During her time as pensions minister, Baroness Altmann voiced her support for the current system of taxing pension income, rather than contributions, indicating a split between the DWP and HM Treasury on the matter. Baroness Altmann’s replacement at the DWP is Richard Harrington. It remains to be seen how much influence he will have and on what side of the camp he sits regarding taxing pensions.

Meanwhile, Philip Hammond has entered the Treasury while our new Prime Minister calls for greater unity. Following a tumultuous time for pensions, a change in tone towards greater unity and cross-department collaboration would be very welcome.

In order for everyone to acclimatise properly to the new normal, the new chancellor should commit to a return to a longer-term, strategic approach to pensions policymaking, enabling all parties, from regulators and providers to customers, to make decisions with confidence that the landscape will not continue to shift as fundamentally as it has in recent times.

Steven Levin is CEO of investment platforms at Old Mutual Wealth.

To view all of Old Mutual Wealth’s retirement reports, visit: products-and-investments/ pensions/pensions2015/