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Andrew Allison, Head of Campaigns, writes…
Max Mosley has long held a grudge against the press. Ever since it was reported he took part in a ‘Nazi-style’ orgy, he has attempted to use his considerable wealth to stifle press freedom and to try and make sure the press dances to his tune. And his tune is not a happy, carefree scherzo – more like the most depressing funeral march you will ever have the misfortune to hear.
It is rather ironic that Mosley and the not so merry band of pilgrims in Hacked Off, complain about the power of the free press whilst circumventing the inconvenient truth that as many of them are using their considerable power and wealth to ensure nothing embarrassing about them will ever again be published in newspapers. In an excellent article published just before Christmas, Mick Hume, Editor-at-Large of spiked opens with, “Forward to 2017. Or should that be 1695?” Quite!
I know I am preaching to the converted (or at least should be) when I say that a free press is the cornerstone of a free society. In the UK in 2017 I shouldn’t really have to go through the arguments explaining why, but if Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 is implemented, in many ways we do go back to 1695 – back to the days when state licensing of printing presses ensured nothing inconvenient could be published, and those involved in corruption in high places could rest assured that their nefarious lifestyles would never be revealed to the masses.
If a newspaper refuses to give up its freedom (which any self-respecting publication should do) and chooses not to sign-up to the new state press regulator, Impress, funded by Mosley it will have to pay not only its own legal costs if it is sued, but also the costs of its opponent in court. Fair enough if the court rules against a newspaper but under this appalling new scheme the newspaper would be forced to pay for its opponent’s costs even if it won the case. Impress says it is the first truly independent press regulator in the UK. Leaving to one side the fact that the free press should not be regulated, the truth is Impress is nothing more than a vanity project for Mosley to ensure the free press acts in ways he sees fit.
Local newspapers in particular are having a torrid time at the moment. Many of them are between a financial rock and a hard place as we enter 2017. If Mosley had his way, most of them will be finished unless they bow down to his new regulator. How many editors of local newspapers would risk publishing anything remotely controversial with the threat of a very large, potentially crippling, legal bill hanging over them?
Section 40 is a charter for all those who have something to hide to behave like absolute monarchs. They can threaten, bully, and sue with impunity. They will never have to pick-up the bill. Any corrupt local official will have a licence to do anything they think they can get away with – and get away with it they will.
There is something, though, that you can do to make your views known. The public consultation closes on 10 January, and you can let the Government know that if it implements these proposals it will not be acting in your name.
Go to freethepress.co.uk and 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. We do not want 2017 to go down in history as the year press freedom in the UK died.