Press freedom, the lifeblood of democracy, is under attack. Proposed legislative changes put our fundamental right to free speech in jeopardy. The time for action is now, says Rory Broomfield.
The Freedom Association, along with many other groups, is standing up for the freedom of the press against an insidious campaign waged by Hacked Off and the Max Mosley funded regulator, Impress, in order to help save our local press and our tradition of free speech.
On 10 January, a Government consultation on whether to proceed with Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry and to introduce Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 will end. The Government is asking members of the public – you – to inform the process by giving your opinion (which you can do so at https://freethepress.co.uk/).
The Freedom Association has made itself quite clear why there should be an emphatic ‘no’ to both these measures, as has The Spectator, Spiked Online, The Daily Mirror and many others. The potential introduction of these measures, along with a Royal Charter, has been called “insane” by the editor of The Sun, “repressive” by Rachel Jolley, editor of the Index on Censorship magazine, and the editor-in-chief of the Daily Mirror and Sunday People, Lloyd Embley, has warned that legislation leading to a state-based regulator “would be the end of the free press here.”
These objections are partly based on the increased fear of editorial censorship that would come about by these measures. With their introduction, in-house lawyers would have more power over newspapers editors and these editors may well, in time, be bullied into not reporting stories about individual discretions – even ones that pass the public interest test – on the basis that the publication might be sued by that litigious individual.
Indeed, under these measures celebrities, and others, many of whom want to promote themselves at the same time, would instead of getting a rather expensive (but probably not for them) Super Injunction – that would ensure their alleged actions weren’t reported – would under these measures be able to seek redress at either arbitration or (better yet) a state-funded regulator that you and I pay for (but they may not). They will effectively get the taxpayer – not themselves – to pay for their privacy and the censorship of free speech.
If that wasn’t bad enough (and that’s horrific as it is), it is my contention that a “yes” to the proposed introduction of Section 40, which would force publications who are taken to court to pay for both themselves and their opponents, would lead to the unwinding and possible destruction of the local newspaper industry. It would do so because, frankly, faced with the prospect of being sued and bearing the brunt of substantial legal costs, owners of regional and local news will just stop investing and sell up.
Max Mosley, who funds the press regulator Impress through his charity, has claimed that only five news corporations that own most of the national press also own most of the local press. This is true. A study done by the Media Reform Coalition found that, indeed, five companies control some 70% of regional daily newspaper circulation.
However, what that report, and others, haven’t said is that these companies have – as a result of their investment – saved regional newspapers from going under. Indeed, without the support of companies like BSkyB etc, there might not be any regional newspapers at all.
What Mosley also doesn’t like to admit is that there is almost no way that the Directors of The Guardian Media Group – or any other owner – would be micromanaging these local or regional newspapers. Just think: the editor-in-chief of the Guardian phoning up every day the editor of Macclesfield Express or the Rochdale Observer to tell them what to write. Ludicrous! It doesn’t happen.
What Hacked Off and Max Mosley don’t want you to know is that the likelihood of regional newspapers ever flourishing with this legislation is small. It would pose too much of a risk for investors to be responsible for publications that could ensure a set of hefty legal bills in time. I am not, for one instance though, suggesting lower editorial standards at these regional newspapers. I am, however, suggesting that they will not have the necessary resources to hire the legal advice needed to cope with this legislation.
Ultimately, it’s up to you: please inform the consultation by going to freethepress.co.uk where you will find a response to the consultation that you can send off to Karen Bradley, the Culture Secretary. You can amend it, add your own thoughts, and use it as a template. The choice is yours – but please take part in the consultation and help save our local / regional newspapers and our free speech.