‘Vital government plays its part in healthy media landscape’ – Gove
Michael Gove, cabinet member of the Rishi Sunak government, yesterday delivered a trenchant personal commitment to Press freedom.
He said: ‘What keeps politicians honest, what keeps democracy alive, what ensures that this country works, and is a country of which we can be proud, is free speech and free press and free inquiry. And any attempt by government through regulators or through other means to check, undermine or throttle that spirit of free inquiry goes against the very foundations of our democracy. Free speech does not mean anything, but it does mean the freedom to say things that are sometimes painful to those in power and sometimes difficult for others to hear.’
Gove, a former senior editor of The Times news title returned to the top ranks of government this week when the UK prime minister Rishi Sunak appointed him as Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Minister for Intergovernmental Relations. Twenty hours later he was addressing the London Press Club ahead of its presentation of awards for excellence in journalism.
He said: ‘I am grateful for the chance to face you as a member of Rishi’s cabinet. Grateful also after terrible months of turbulence, after a rolling news buffet and all you can eat story extravaganza, that boring is back. The public has had the most amazing feast of events, of controversy, of change, of an almost convulsive 24/7 news cycle eating up every second of their attention. Now is the time I think for, certainly from the view of the government, for nerves to settle, for us to get back to the business of government in a quiet way which ensures that others get the headlines.’
He joked: ‘I have to apologise to all of you here for our utter determination to try to be as dull as possible.’
Gove became a journalist after leaving university, working as a reporter for The Press and Journal in Aberdeen, a researcher and reporter at Scottish Television and a reporter for BBC Television. He was later Assistant Editor of The Times. An MP since 2005, and serving under four prime ministers, Gove has held numerous top political positions and gave evidence to the UK Leveson judicial public inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press.
At the awards ceremony, Gove stressed: ‘I am a staunch and strong defender of our media for obvious good reasons. When I was Education Secretary, I was privileged to give evidence to the Leveson inquiry when they were looking at the future of press regulation. I made clear then, that as a matter of principle, that a free and fair press is the best guardian of democracy.’
He added that he was aware that the local press had had a particularly tough time. ‘Local newspapers, local media, including local radio reflect communities which they serve superbly well. It is one of the sadnesses of the last few years that we have seen an erosion of the circulation of local newspapers and various assaults on the viability and vigour local media overall. As secretary of state for levelling up one of the things which I think is vitally important that we do in government is everything we can to support local voices. Yes, the nature of media will change, newspaper formats and platforms will evolve but is absolutely vital that we make sure that communities feel they can have a voice, that those in power locally are checked and scrutinised and the local heroes and heroines are championed.’
‘During the COVID pandemic, when I was in the cabinet office, I was very pleased that there we were able to have a partnership with the media in order to ensure that we could get information which the government needed out to the public but also so that we could also support newspapers at a time when newsagents were shuttered, and individuals were at home, and the lifeblood, the circulation of newspapers, was respected. Because it is absolutely vital government plays its part in making sure that we have that health media landscape.’
Gove told the audience (of editors, writers, multi-media journalist and news industry representatives including the News Media Coalition. Foreign Press Association and Society of Editors): ‘One of the issues for everyone in the news business, is that everyone here is a content creator – some politicians are unwitting content creators – but everyone in this room is a content creator who can sometimes have their creativity taken advantage of and exploited by distant platforms, organisations that don’t pay their taxes here and don’t have the same loyalty or allegiance to citizens, readers and listeners and viewers here.’
He said that looking at the forthcoming legislative and regulatory landscape ‘it is vitally important that we in government recognise that while we believe in the free markets and competition we must ensure’ that those in distant places ‘don’t erode that vitality and vigour of our free press here.’
Doug Wills, chairman of the London Press Club, Editor Emeritus at Evening Standard and Treasurer of the News Media Coalition, thanked Gove for honouring his commitment to attend the awards ceremony.
The awards were sponsored by PA Media, Getty Images, Journalists’ Charity, Cision, Blakeney and Budweiser.
Photo taken by Lucy Young