Express & Star comment: MPs must not kill off the press
Tonight in the House of Commons a vote is to be held that could well decide the future of an entire industry.
An amendment to the Data Protection Act proposes the introduction of insidious legislation that could spell the end of newspaper printing in this country on a large scale.
The Section 40 clause would mean that newspapers have to pay the costs of anyone who sues them in court, even if the newspaper wins the case.
It is as ludicrous and patently unfair a piece of legislation as the Mother of All Parliaments has ever seen. And yet, in the anti-press zeal still in full flow long after the closure of The News of the World, it stands a chance of passing on to the statute book.
Loudly supported by the likes of Hugh Grant, who has had his own issues with the press, the legislation would mean that local newspapers, such as the Express & Star, would be deterred from publishing any story about any individual who merely threatened court action.
The reality is that the legal costs of fighting such cases and the inevitability of paying for the other side’s costs would reduce newspaper coverage to bland stories and articles that would convey little or no useful information to the paying public.
A councillor up to no good at your local authority? We couldn’t tell you.
A trader knee deep in dodgy practices? Nothing must be written.
An MP acting less than honourably behind their constituents’ back?
Absolutely off the agenda.
Even if the stories are true, the mere threat of legal action would probably force an editor’s hand.
This newspaper takes no pleasure in noting that one of the chief architects and drivers behind this legislation is Labour’s West Bromwich East MP Tom Watson.
Though he has tried to soften the blow in recent weeks, there is no doubting the damage this legislation would do to the local press.
But while some national journalists have questioned Mr Watson’s morals and motivation, we have no doubt that he believes he is acting with the best intentions.
The crimes and misdemeanours of sections of the national press, stretching back many years, rightly sparked outrage from most right-thinking people and it is understandable that Mr Watson would want to play his part in helping to reform sections of the industry.
However the press has done a very good job in recent years in reforming itself.
The establishment of the Independent Press Standards Organisation has led to a credible watchdog that has done an excellent job in maintaining the high standards that the industry aspires to.
To this end, there is no need for a costly and time consuming second part of the Leveson inquiry. There is also no common sense or reasonable argument for the introduction of Section 40.
Gavin Williamson has warned that the amendment could destroy local newspapers and take away a voice for so many people around the country.
Newspapers bind cities, towns and villages together, give communities a voice, fight for them and keep local people informed about what is going on in their area.
Theresa May is also known to be against this draconian and unnecessary legislation.
We call on MPs of all political parties to consider the impact that this unethical, unreasonable and unwanted legislation could have on their communities – and play fair with the press.