OUR COMMENT: Huge costs threat to your free press

The phone hacking scandal which engulfed the News of the World shocked the nation.

Wednesday, 19th October 2016, 11:58 am
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 6:23 am
Our comment

But the subsequent inquiry entirely exonerated the local press and said newspapers like this one should not be penalised by any processes designed to prevent a repeat.

How laughable that promise now seems.

Although we have willingly signed up to the toughest independent regulation through IPSO - which rightly consumes an enormous amount of journalists’ time whenever a complaint is made - it seems politicians are still not satisfied.

Under the Crime and Courts Act of 2013, we are already liable for exemplary damages in any libel action we lose.

Now, there is a real fear that politicians will enact a clause which means we would have to pay our costs and those of any complainant - even if we win the case.

How can that be right and fair - to win a defamation action and yet be burdened with both sides’ costs?

And it’s not just limited to libel.

It could stop or chill a legitimate investigation run on your behalf. A local authority might fight a newspaper on breach of confidence grounds and we would still have to pay their costs even if a court held that we were in the right and publication was in the public interest.

Were we to join a regulator approved under ‘Royal Charter’ it’s true we could evade such penalties.

But no respectable national or local newspaper is prepared to sacrifice our independence to represent you in this way.

It is a bedrock of free speech that newspapers should never run the risk of political intervention or some element of state overview.

If the Government proceeds with this costs threat, the real loser will be you.

It will inevitably mean, local papers will become bland and cover prices will be pushed even higher. Our ability to represent communities without fear or favour will be hugely diminished.

In an internet and social media age where there are virtually no controls and anything can be said - all too often in the most demeaning of language - the font of impartial information provision, your local newspaper and its websites, have never been more under attack.

We trust that culture secretary Karen Bradley and Prime Minister Theresa May will not endorse such a brutal attack on free speech nor erode the principle that those who win in court should not be made to pay the loser.

If you agree, please ask your MP to back our cause. They will be supporting your right to know.