The freedom of the UK press, the lifeblood of our democracy, is under attack from a proposed change in the law and we need to act fast in order to protect it.
You may have missed this proposed affront to democracy in the heat of the festive season. The government is consulting on whether Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 is implemented. If this legislation is approved by Parliament, newspapers will have to pay the legal costs of opponents in libel cases and certain other court actions such as privacy, harassment or breach of confidence – even if the newspaper wins the case – unless they have joined the state-approved press regulator Impress. It would mean that someone accurately exposed for wrongdoing could sue the news publisher and have nothing to lose. Some of the smaller regional newspaper publishers could even face bankruptcy as a result.
The only way to avoid this stinging legal bill would be for publishers to sign up to Impress, a body supported by Max Mosley. It is widely believed that Mosley, son of British fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley, is seeking revenge against the press for exposing his sordid lifestyle. In 2008, the News of the World had exposed his participation in a sadomasochistic orgy with five prostitutes, which the paper claimed had Nazi overtones.
Almost all UK newspapers, both national and regional, have refused to sign up to Impress. Other countries with state regulation of the press include Bahrain, China, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe. This is not a list the UK should be seeking to join.
This proposal would have a chilling effect on press freedom and we would be likely to see an end to investigative journalism, which currently helps to expose wrongdoing or inadequate performance in government. Our ability to see politicians held to account will then be much reduced.
We already have an effective independent regulator that was introduced following the Leveson Inquiry, known as the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), so there is no need for a state-approved regulator. It imposes binding contractual obligations on the press in how they deal with complaints and carry out their journalism. It even has the power to issue huge fines for breaches of the rules. The crucial thing is that it is independent and self-funded by the media industry.
The public consultation is due to finish on 10th January. This is one of the most chilling proposals in UK history and we might ask why the government chose to consult during the Christmas/New Year season when people are busy and their minds are pre-occupied with other things.
As Thomas Jefferson said, “When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear government, there is tyranny.” If passed, then the Section 40 proposal will leave politicians less fearful and their constituents more so. Any corrupt official will have a licence to do anything they think they can get away with – and get away with it they will.
So if you don’t want that and you believe that MPs and Lords should have nowhere to hide, then you may want to participate in the consultation at FreeThePress. This is a quick and easy way to take part as the website has a template response which you can edit. You can view the consultation documents on the government’s official website.
Remember, you only have until the 10th of January to make your views known. Of course, some MPs may be only too happy to see a reduction in their potential exposure to the public gaze and you may also want to write to your MP in addition to completing the consultation exercise. You can find the contact details of your local MP at WriteToThem.com.
For almost 350 years, since the scrapping of the licensing system for the press, the press in Britain has been largely free. Section 40 would reverse this great historic gain. We must stop it from being implemented.