Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Six hours to save Britain's free press


Six hours left in the consultation on Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013.

The consultation closes at 5pm today (Tuesday 10th January 2017).

As I have previously written I am convinced that Section 40 would seriously damage Britain's democracy by emasculating press freedom. This law was put on the statute book following the Leveson Inquiry and the phone hacking scandal, as a result of lobbying by people who believed that more effective remedies were needed against bad behaviour by the press.
 
Section 40 was not initially brought into effect, but the government, which is under pressure from the opposition parties, the House of Lords and some backbenchers to bring section 40 into effect, is about to conclude a consultation on whether or not to do so.

Section 40 means that if a newspaper refuses to sign up to the government-approved regulator - which most of them have refused to sign up to - and somebody does not like a report that such a newspaper writes and sues them, the paper can be ordered to pay the legal costs of both sides even if the paper win and their article was found to be truthful and in the public interest.

This is an attempt to pressure newspapers into signing up for the approved regulator.

Even there were no concerns about if Impress, the government approved regulator other than the fact that it IS government approved, I could understand why good journalists and newspapers who were passionately committed to the concept of free and independent journalism might not want to be subject to it. But there are further concerns. As the articles linked to in some of my previous blog posts on this subject demonstrate, some of the board of Impress have said things which clearly indicate that they are deeply hostile to much of the British press, to a sufficient extent to call into question their ability to act as a neutral arbiter.

As I have said many times before, I am not the greatest fan of Britain's newspapers - they don't always get it right and some things they have done have been disgraceful. 
 
But most of the worst abuses which inspired and were exposed by the Leveson Inquiry were against the existing law, and those who could be proved in court to have been responsible - including some of the most powerful people in Britain - were convicted and went to jail under pre-Leveson law.
 
I would like to see  IPSOS, the regulatory body which most of the newspapers are signed up, introduce a system of low-cost arbitration.

But section 40 is the wrong way to get this or any other press reform because it will hurt good journalism as well as bad. 

As I have said before and will say again, Section 40 will seriously damage the ability of local newspapers like the North West Evening Mail, News and Star, Whitehaven News or the Keswick Reminder to report anything controversial for fear of malicious legal actions.

 You can take part in the government consultation at

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/consultation-on-the-leveson-inquiry-and-its-implementation
 
or by sending an Email to:  presspolicy@culture.gov.uk

by 5pm today.

If you care about free speech in this country and have not already done this, please do so.

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