Press freedom proposals are an attack on democracy

THE British public deserve to know about corruption, scandal, fraud and other wrongdoing in society.

We firmly believe 99 out of every 100 people would agree with that declaration.

A free press is the very cornerstone of a civilised and democratic society.

A similar number we’re sure, bar perhaps Jeremy Corbyn’s Momentum comrades, would agree with this statement too.

And yet, despite the fact that 300 years of Press freedom has been put out to public consultation as if it were a routine planning matter in a local council, newspapers have struggled to garner significant public support. Endless articles have received little or no engagement and interaction on social media, calls to sign petitions have received modest backing to put it politely and a Daily Mail plea for people to respond to the Government consultation was flooded with comments which were blasé at best and downright scornful at worst. Editors at national, regional and local level have been talking into echo chambers, hoping somebody will pick up the fight.

But why has there been such little public support on a matter which cuts to the very core of what type of society we stand for?

Most people believe in the concept of a free press. But when it’s become so clear that newspapers are increasingly driven by bias rather than fact, when they are so intrusive and so driven by corporate interests, is it any wonder that people are deeply sceptical about whether what we have now is a truly free press? We think the newspapers themselves would admit that it isn’t – but a large part of that is down to the changing world we live in. Battling the social media age of instant news, falling readerships and advertising has led to huge staff cutbacks across the journalistic spectrum. And what happens when cuts are made? Output declines. And it’s an undeniable fact that journalism is poorer in quality than it was 10 or 20 years ago. Indeed a recent poll showed the British Press is one of the least trusted in the world.

We’re afraid the overall portrayal of the British Press over a number of decades has now come back to haunt it. It’s a case of the boy who cried wolf. Newspapers have become so synonymous with printing negative news, intruding in people’s lives, overstepping the mark and printing corrections, that people forget all the good things they do. Rather like you never remember the positive story on page 55, you won’t ever remember the groundbreaking investigative journalism which has uncovered scandals like MPs expenses, the Rotherham sex-grooming cover-up or police failures over the Stephen Lawrence murder. You’ll remember the bad stuff and it’s this culture which it is now coming back to haunt it.freedom-of-press

But despite all its flaws, and it does have many, time and again it is newspapers which have exposed some of the worst wrongdoing in our society. Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act has been passed through Parliament unopposed and now only Culture Secretary Karen Bradley and a public consultation which has recently closed stand in the way of full implementation.

The measure, if triggered, would force newspapers to sign up to a state-endorsed watchdog – defeating the very essence of Press freedom in this supposedly liberal society of ours. Those attempting to resist face the prospect of huge and disproportionate financial penalties, the likes of which will put smaller setups out of business. For the larger media organisations, it will make them seriously think about whether it is worth the hassle of publishing the next big expose for fear of provoking legal action.

For all their many faults, all newspapers have unquestionably been tarred with the same brush since the phone-hacking scandal which, as it happened, actually involved very few Press organisations in the grand scheme of things. The industry-financed Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), run by former High Court Judge Sir Alan Moses, has proven resolute in holding publications to account since the phone-hacking investigation concluded, and has powers to impose front-page corrections and fines of up to £1 million should it be warranted.

Section 40 takes power away from everyday people and hands power to the crooks and chancers in this world. It hands power to the rich elite, the establishment, who can afford expensive lawsuits to silence wrongdoing despite it being in the public interest. No matter how little you think of our Press, this proposal is a complete affront to our democracy. It must be challenged, it must be stopped and it must be scrapped in its entirety.

Shy Society.
Standing up for those without a voice in Britain

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