Labour is wrong on press freedom

Submitted by Matthew on 14 June, 2017 - 11:40 Author: Gerry Bates

Labour’s manifesto committed the party to implement the recommendations in part one of the Leveson enquiry.That would mean supporting Section 40 of the current Crime and Court Act. Under this law newspapers (including Solidarity) have to pay their opponents’ legal costs in libel and privacy cases, even if they win!

Publishers can avoid these charges by signing up with Impress, the recognised regulator financed by Max Mosley.Both the Society of Editors and the National Union of Journalists are against all of Leveson’s recommendations. They said:

“Section 40 would have a seriously chilling effect upon [our] work. The financial implications aside, [we] would be simply less inclined to pursue investigations in the public interest when the risk of crippling legal costs would be increased. The legislation is not only at odds with the principle that justice should be fair, it seeks to punish those same newspapers that the Labour Party claims to value and fine them for telling the truth.

“It is widely accepted that local and regional newspapers were not the focus of Leveson, nor did they have anything to do with phone hacking. Lord Justice Leveson was also at pains to state that his recommendations should not provide an added burden to the regional and local press. Section 40 is fundamentally inconsistent with the principle of press freedom.

“The potential impact to the quality, investigative, campaigning journalism we fight for every day is clear…The punitive elements of Section 40, however, must be held back. It is untenable for any newspaper or magazine to face bearing both sides’ costs when vexatious litigants initiate action.

“The union also believes the relationship between some newspapers and the police must also be investigated as part of Leveson 2. The commitments made to scores of victims, journalists among them, who have an understandable desire for the truth to be uncovered must be implemented. Journalists were scapegoated in the aftermath of hacking and we now know deals were done with the police to protect the companies responsible. At the time when another move is in play for the Murdochs to get their hands on BSkyB, dodging a meaningful investigation into what really went on should be untenable for anyone who cares about journalism.”

It is right that Corbyn and the Labour Party want to challenge the dominance and influence of the big media companies.Further state regulation including massive financial penalties that the likes of Murdoch and Rothermere, but not Solidarity or even mainstream local newspapers, can afford, would be wholly regressive.