On the day we have announced a new eighth principle of a free society - a free press and other media - Peter Mullen has written a timely article about those Peers who voted yesterday to restrict press freedom.
If, along with millions of others, you enjoy reading your local paper every morning, make the most of it because you might not have a local paper for much longer. For last night the House of Lords scandalously voted to restrict press freedom yet further. The vote was on an amendment to Section 40 of the Government's Data Protection Bill which will make newspapers face huge bills in data protection disputes.
Under this proposal, newspapers not signed up to a state-supported regulator would have to pay their opponent's legal costs, even if they were successful in court.
Matt Hancock MP, the culture secretary described the Lords vote as “a hammer blow to local papers” and he has promised to do all he can to have the decision reversed when the measure comes before the Commons, saying, “We support a free press and we will overturn this amendment.”
The Lords vote was beyond outrageous. In a word it was wicked. How can there be any natural justice in a law which forces a person – or in this case a newspaper – to pay the court costs of his accuser who has been proved to be in the wrong?
Consider this comparison: my neighbour is building a low wall between our properties and I don’t like it. He assures me that the wall will do nothing to obscure my view or reduce the amount of sunshine I enjoy in my garden. His proposed wall, he says, is less than a foot tall and merely ornamental. But I am renowned for being obstreperous and uncooperative and I tell my neighbour I still don’t like his wall and I’m going to sue him.
The case comes before the court which rules that there is nothing offensive or intrusive about my neighbour’s wall and that I am just being unreasonable. My action is thrown out.
Under the new law, my neighbour – who has been adjudged to be in the right – will be forced to pay my legal costs, when I have been shown to be in the wrong.
In other words the Lords amendment is a charter for mischievous litigants. It will permit any crank out to make a fast buck to sue any newspaper about anything, secure in the knowledge that, win or lose, his costs will be paid by the paper.
It’s easy to see where this will lead in pretty quick time: newspapers will be bankrupted and titles will close down.
Who could possibly have dreamed up a process so manifestly unethical? Answer: the commissars in Lord Justice Leveson’s Press Recognition Panel.
Politicians sometimes don't mind too much if newspapers shut down – because it will mean they are no longer held to account. If Leveson’s recommendations had been in operation at the time of the MPs’ expenses scandal, there would have been no expenses scandal because there would have been no free press to investigate and report it.
A free press is the first requirement of a free society and every totalitarian dictatorship from
Maduro’s Venezuela to Putin’s klepto-fascist regime in Russia seeks to curtail and even abolish press freedom. Even the Puritan John Milton, who was employed by Oliver Cromwell as his censor, fervently defended press freedom in his Areopagitica saying: “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.”
We shall now have imposed upon us a restrictiveness and repression worse than that of the Puritan Commonwealth of 1649-1660.
Surely the government in the Commons will be able to call on the support of Labour members and get this pernicious measure thrown out. You must be joking. Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, last night praised the Lords vote as “an important step towards justice.” No – everyone can see that it is a palpable injustice: everyone except the totalitarians who make up Corbyn’s politburo.
Bit by treacherous bit, the establishment with its self-regarding culture of entitlement is extinguishing freedom of speech in Britain
All views expressed in contributions by named authors are their own and may not reflect the views of The Freedom Association.